Ryan Burge on the Word ‘Liberal’ Has Become Taboo for Many Religious Americans

Democratic presidential candidates participate during the Democratic primary debate hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts on June 26, 2019, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The Rev. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, has made himself into a cable news celebrity by denouncing Democrats as “godless” and “liberal” and hailing President Trump as the best friend for people of faith.

While Democrats have embraced the so-called nones — those with no religious affiliation — the party seems to have gone out of its way to drop the word “liberal.” Twenty Democratic presidential primary candidates debated in June for a total of four hours. They also debated for another four hours in late July.

The number of times that any of those candidates (or the moderators) used the word “liberal”: just once.

Kirsten Gillibrand, who has since dropped out of the race, made the only mention: “We don’t need a liberal or progressive with big ideas or we don’t need a moderate who can win back Trump-Obama voters. You need someone who can do both. And that’s who I am.”

Dumping the world “liberal” may be a good decision — especially as Democrats try to woo the swing-state religious voters who played a key role in the 2016 presidential election.

The word “liberal” has become taboo for many religious Americans, at least according to data from the General Social Survey dating back to 1974.

While over 40% of nonwhite weekly church attenders identified as liberal in the 1970s, that has now dropped to just 28%.

The decline for the most devout white Americans is more dramatic. While 21.6% of them were liberals in 1974, today it’s just 12.7%, according to the GSS.

“Percent Identifying as Liberal” Graphic by Ryan Burge

Among those who never attend worship services, the word “liberal” retains some appeal.

About 4 in 10 white Americans who never attend services described themselves as liberal, a percentage that has remained stable since the 1970s.

Among nonwhite Americans who never attend services, the world “liberal” is slightly more popular, with more than 4 in 10 embracing the term. Still, less than half of Americans who never attend services call themselves liberal, according to the GSS.

The Cooperative Congressional Election Study shows some similar patterns.

Using data from 2018, I analyzed political ideology for whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians at six attendance levels, ranging from never attending to attendance that was multiple times a week

The results will likely leave religiously devout liberals feeling very isolated.

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Source: Religion News Service