Mark A. Smith is professor of Political Science and an adjunct professor of Comparative Religion and Communication at the University of Washington. His research focuses on economic and religious groups, ideas, and influences in American politics. In his new book, Secular Faith: How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics, Dr. Smith argues that religion is not nearly the unchanging conservative influence in American politics that we have come to think it is and is best understood as responding to changing political and cultural values rather than shaping them.
“It’s Beautiful,” a Coca-Cola advertisement shown during the Super Bowl, encapsulates American ethnic and religious diversity and has prompted reactions ranging from appreciation to outrage on social media. Some see the ad—which includes a same-sex family, people of many religions, races and ethnicities, and a bilingual rendition of “America the Beautiful”—as an inspiring representation of America’s diversity. Some conservative commentators took exception to the ad viewing it as an attack on traditional American values, voicing resentment that it features a non-English version of “America the Beautiful.”
A recent PRRI survey shows that growing religious differences between seniors, America’s oldest adults, and Millennials, America’s youngest adults, are dramatic.
More than 7-in-10 (71%) seniors identify as some type of white Christian, including white evangelical Protestant (29%) white mainline Protestant (23%), or white Catholic (17%). In contrast, less than 3-in-10 (28%) of Millennials identify as white Christian (10% white evangelical Protestant, 9% white mainline Protestant, and 6% white Catholic). Seniors are about three times more likely than Millennials to identify as white Catholic (17% vs. 6%). Conversely, Hispanic Catholics make up a much larger proportion of Millennials (10%) than seniors (3%). Among Americans under the age of 30, the majority (56%) of Catholics are now Hispanic. Another important religious difference separating seniors and Millennials is the number of each who identify as religiously unaffiliated. Nearly one-third (31%) of Millennials identify as religiously unaffiliated, compared to roughly 1-in-10 (11%) seniors. Millennials (13%) are also about four times more likely than seniors (3%) to identify as atheist or agnostic.
Although the Coca-Cola advertisement may have been controversial in some quarters, it is clear that the religious and ethnic landscape of America is changing to become less white, less Christian, and more diverse.