The share of religiously unaffiliated voters in the Democratic Party has surged over the last 20 years, leading to a growing God gap between America's two main political parties, according to a new Pew Research Center study.
The percentage of Democratic voters who identify as "nones" has nearly tripled in two decades, growing at a faster rate within the Democratic Party than in the U.S. population as a whole. "In 2016, nearly 3 in 10 (29 percent) Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters are religiously unaffiliated — describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or 'nothing in particular' — up from just 10 percent in 1996," Pew reported.
Today, 12 percent of Republican voters are religiously unaffiliated, a 6 percentage point increase over 20 years, the study noted.
Pew's report explores the variety of ways the composition of the Republican and Democratic parties have evolved in recent years, analyzing religious make-up, average age and the ethnic background of registered voters. The survey is based on more than two decades of research, including 253 surveys and more than 340,000 interviews.
"Democrats have become the party of the nation's youthful, increasingly secular, racially and ethnically diverse urban population. Republicans represent an older America, both literally, given their backing from voters older than 50, and figuratively, with their support centered on white, religiously devout Protestants living in non-urban areas," the Los Angeles Times reported.
More than 1 in 3 Republican voters (35 percent) identify as white evangelical Protestants, and an additional 17 percent are white mainline Protestants, according to Pew.
The Republican Party is also enjoying growing support from white Catholics. "White Catholics are 17 points more likely to affiliate with the GOP than they were in 2008 and eight points more likely than they were in 2012," researchers noted.
However, the GOP is slightly less popular with Mormons today than it was in the past, although the Republican Party still enjoys far more support from this religious group than the Democratic Party. Nearly 7 in 10 Mormons (69 percent) identify as Republican or lean Republican today, compared to 78 percent in 2012.
This shift could be explained, at least in part, by some Mormons' distaste for Donald Trump, the GOP's presidential nominee.
"On some level, this dynamic might seem intuitive," wrote BuzzFeed News political correspondent McKay Coppins in an op-ed for The New York Times in June. "Mormonism is a faith that holds up chastity as a virtue and condemns pornography as a soul-rotting vice; Mr. Trump is an unabashed adulterer who has posed for Playboy covers," Coppins said.
Overall, Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton enjoy high levels of support from the religious groups active in their respective political parties, as should be expected. Sixty-two percent of white evangelical voters plan to vote for Trump, and 55 percent of the religious unaffiliated plan to support Clinton, according to an August survey from Public Religion Research Institute.
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