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Good morning, friends. Happy summer solstice. Enjoy the sun.

3 things to know

  • It will be just Joe Biden and Donald Trump at Thursday’s presidential debate after Robert F. Kennedy Jr. failed to qualify, CNN announced. Kennedy has not yet gained ballot access in enough states to hypothetically win the Electoral College. In a statement, Kennedy called CNN’s decision “undemocratic, un-American, and cowardly.” Read more here.
  • Trump is testing his Midas touch by making endorsements in House and Senate primary races across the country. But those endorsements often conflict with some of his staunchest allies — including Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who finds himself opposite Trump ahead of next week’s Republican primary. Read more here.
  • A growing number of Americans identify as socially liberal, according to a new Gallup survey — even as Biden trails Trump in polls across the country. It may help that on the economy, which voters consistently rank as their top issue, a plurality of Americans say they’re fiscally conservative. Read more here.

The Big Idea

From the pews to the polls

Religious voters tend to get put in the spotlight in election years. White evangelicals secured Trump’s victory in 2016. A slight edge from Biden’s fellow Catholics carried him in 2020. This cycle, Muslims in the Midwest are frustrated with Biden’s loyalty to Israel. I’m also eyeing Latter-day Saints in Arizona and Nevada, two of the battleground states, who are perhaps more dissatisfied by both of the two major parties than any other religious group. (You can read my analysis about that here, or listen here or here.)

But these voting trends are only a sliver of the larger landscape. As the country’s political parties are undergoing shifts, America’s religious landscape is transforming — a shift that could determine elections for years to come.

I heard a fascinating presentation by Ryan Burge during BYU’s Religious Freedom Review on Thursday. Burge is a data scientist and a pastor, and his work focuses on the trends among U.S. faith groups — including the rise of religious “nones,” or those unaffiliated with any group.

As Burge tracks data on religious affiliation and public opinion, he sees an imminent divide. If the current trends hold, the America of the future will include a significant number of very religious, very conservative people on one side; on the other, a large group of non-religious, very liberal people.

“We talk a lot in this country about political polarization,” he told his audience at BYU. “We don’t talk nearly as much in this country about religious polarization.”

The trends are getting so dire, Burge added, that it could reach a point “where I don’t know if democracy is going to survive in America.”

It isn’t just that a growing share of Americans no longer identify as religious. It’s that many religious groups are attempting to “purify themselves” along partisan lines, Burge said. As a result, denominations show increasing political homogeneity, tethering themselves to partisan identities and squeezing out any members who disagree.

The data show the trends. In 2008, an even split of Southern Baptists were Republicans and Democrats; now, three-fourths are Republicans. White Catholics aren’t far behind: once solidly Democrat, they are now majority Republican. “They are trending in the exact same direction that the white Evangelical Church has trended over the last 20 years,” Burge said.

Meanwhile, atheists and agnostics overwhelmingly describe themselves as liberal. And the churches that have maintained the most political diversity — like mainstream Protestant congregations — are shrinking in size.

“I am not saying it’s bad that white evangelicals are Republican,” Burge said. “What I am saying is I think it’s highly problematic when one religious group is dominated by one or the other political party. That is problematic.”

How does this effect U.S. politics? As religious groups shift to the right, the non-religious are trending further and further to the left. Burge’s prediction — of a religious, conservative group on the political right, and a non-religious, liberal group on the left — leaves a hollowed-out middle.

“It’s making compromise impossible in this country,” Burge said.

Burge’s advice? Fostering meaningful, in-person interaction with people that disagree with you — the kind that, ideally, can be found within the pews of a politically diverse church. “Talk to people,” he said. “They’re human beings, just like you. What I’ve found, at the end of the day, most people are a lot more moderate than you think.”

Weekend reads

Immigration isn’t just a top concern in the U.S. — it’s animating voters across Europe, too, where conservative parties are making a resurgence ahead of elections in France, Germany, the U.K. and elsewhere. As public sentiment shifts toward immigration enforcement, centrist candidates are struggling to navigate the rhetoric game. “Copying the far right only helps the far right,” one German-based political consultant said. Immigration fears are pushing centrists to the right in the US and Europe (James Angelos, Myah Ward and Emily Schultheis, Politico)

RFK Jr. faces an uphill battle in Nevada just to get on the ballot. First, the secretary of state declared Kennedy’s signatures were invalid because they were submitted without a vice presidential candidate selected. Now, Nevada Democrats are suing to keep Kennedy on the ballot because he’s running as an independent, even though he’s still registered to vote as a Democrat. Nevada Democrats to sue to kick RFK Jr. off presidential ballot over party affiliations (Gabby Birenbaum, The Nevada Independent)

The Washington Post has some tough love for Biden: it’s time to admit that Trump is winning. “Rather than assuming the polls are wrong, Mr. Biden should assume they are right — and act accordingly,” the Post’s editorial board writes. Biden should assume the polls are right, not wrong


Plus: A great read on Amy Coney Barrett, perhaps the Supreme Court’s most unpredictable justice, by my colleague Mariya Manzhos: The invention — and reinvention — of Amy Coney Barrett

Quote of the week

When asked about his infamous brain worm last week, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said that he may have acquired the parasite while in Utah. Here’s a snippet from Kennedy’s interview on “Piers Morgan Uncensored”:

“I think I got it, what my doctor said, was there were two place I could’ve gotten it. One was in India, where I traveled extensively. And the other was in the hog industry, because I’d been litigating against factory farms in North Carolina, Utah and around the country. And apparently this parasite is very, very common among people who are in that industry.”

—  Robert F. Kennedy Jr. tells Piers Morgan, June 13, 2024

See you on the trail.

Editor’s Note: The Deseret News is committed to covering issues of substance in the 2024 presidential race from its unique perspective and editorial values. Our team of political reporters will bring you in-depth coverage of the most relevant news and information to help you make an informed decision. Find our complete coverage of the election here.

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