Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton might be political old-hands (despite Trump claiming he is an outsider) but the results of their 2016 battle showcased how American electoral politics is changing. Ground zero for this shift was heavily Mormon Utah.
Donald Trump won Utah, but he did so by a much smaller margin than Mitt Romney did four years earlier. Indeed, where Romney won the state with over 70 percent of the vote Trump did not even win a majority as he garnered only 45 percent. One could argue a lot of possible Trump voters in a two candidate race went to third party candidate Evan McMullin but either way McMullin won 21 percent.
The top-line numbers are not what signifies the shift though. Rather, it is how different sub-groups voted. Older Mormons, particularly those over 35, supported Donald Trump in large numbers. By contract, younger Mormons were far more likely to support McMullin or even Gary Johnson.
Unlike younger voters overall, younger Mormons are not any less conservative than their parents. For example, according to a 2011 survey of Mormons by Pew, Mormans 18-29 years old were least likely to identify as Democrats at 2 percent and most likely to describe themselves as very conservative or conservative. However, compared to the 30-49 age group only 50 percent of young Mormons identified as Republican compared to 55 percent of older Mormons. Despite their conservative heritage, younger Mormons were also least likely to identify with the Tea Party, support a government with fewer services and more supportive of the idea immigrants are a benefit to the US. But, on gay marriage and abortion, younger Mormons were as adamant as their parents they were morally wrong and most likely to attend church services.
McMullin’s vote share among younger Mormons was a manifestation of the feeling the GOP does not represent younger Mormons. Of course, Clinton only got 27 percent of all Utah voters so there was also a wide scale rejection of Democratic politics. Trumpian secular politics does not appeal to younger Mormons leaving an ideological void Independents like McMullin can occupy. But down-ballot, these voters are also likely to remain Republican.
The Mormon shift is hardly the only example we can look to. Consider the votes of younger Evangelicals. Exit polls show Trump won the votes of 83 percent of all Evangelicals and well over a majority of younger Evangelicals. But in suburban areas his numbers among this sub-group were much smaller than in rural areas.
A 2017 Pew study showed Evangelical Millennials are just as likely to believe in the immorality of abortion as previous generations. But, just as among younger Mormons, they have seen a decline in economic conservative yet are just a tad less likely to identify as Republican but less likely to identify as Democrats. Unlike younger Mormons though, they are more accepting of gay marriage. So, in some ways, Trump’s moderate tone on social issues like LBGT issues played better with them than younger Mormons.
These shifting attitudes do not mean Mormons and Evangelicals are any less likely to attend church. Additionally, despite starting the home school movement Christian Millennials have earned college degrees at a faster rate than any prior generation. It’s just education has not shifted their voting preferences notably as it has other groups. College educated Christians are more likely to attend church weekly than those with lower levels of education: “68% of evangelicals with degrees attend church weekly vs 55% without, 45% of Catholics with degrees vs 37% for those without, 85% of Mormons with degrees vs 72% for those without.” Further, despite believing science and religion are compatible Millennial Christians are actually more likely to say the Bible is the literal or inspired word of God than their parents.
These fractures are just among two groups. And while they disproportionately impact strongly GOP groups the same thing is playing out in the Democratic Party. College educated and single women are increasingly being drawn into one form of the Democratic Party (we’ll call it Universalists) while the youngest, college educated Democrats are drawn to Bernie Sanders populist mantra.
What these fractures expose is just how much harder it will be for two political parties to represent the interests of so many different voting groups. This does not mean a viable third party will form. Our system is biased and set up to favor only two major parties at one time.
That said, it also means that power will likely shift more constantly despite gerrymandering and other efforts to permanently lock in power. Red and blue states will not disappear overnight but party registration may become less important and ideological self-identification more so.
Voters are more likely to feel dissatisfied with one party and if that occurs but they are very conservative or very liberal they are more likely to stay home than vote. Turnout could dip significantly time and time again as a result as both parties attempt to find short-term messages that appeal to as many groups at once as possible. One thing is for sure. It won’t be boring to watch.