February 27, 2013


Catholic boosters clinging to the hope that Hispanic immigration will save the Church from a demographic train wreck will find some sobering news here. Hispanic immigration has so far kept the Church of Rome from collapsing in the same ignominious way so many mainline Protestant denominations have, but the Church can no longer count on Hispanics to fill its pews. As has already happened to mainline Protestantism, Catholics may find that between conversion to evangelical Protestantism and the rise of “none”-ism, their numbers will be seriously depleted.

But it isn’t just conversion to evangelicalism that weakens the Church’s ties to America’s new immigrants. The American Catholic Church is not what it was. The networks of nuns, brothers, and other religious that met the needs of poor immigrants and helped them adjust to American life have largely disappeared. The Church no longer has these robust networks to help low income Hispanics the way it did past immigrant generations, and these declining numbers reflect that reality.

So much for the religious story painted by the poll. But it also tells us a lot about American society more broadly. For those who worry about immigration’s cultural impact, this survey is one among many pieces of evidence suggesting that Spanish speakers are if anything more open to ‘American’ cultural values and forces than earlier waves of immigrants were. . . .

But the most startling implications of the trends reported by the survey are political. Being religiously observant in any faith correlates strongly with voting Republican; this goes double for evangelical Protestantism. There are exceptions to this trend, of course. Many Black Christians who theologically and culturally fit in the evangelical tradition are reliable Democratic voters. But overall the correlation holds: evangelical Protestants who spend a lot of time in church are among the most reliably Republican voters in the country.

If a lot of Hispanics are picking up their Bibles and heading off to church, this suggests that over time the GOP share of the Hispanic vote will grow. Over the decades, another trend will likely reinforce that one: as immigrant groups become better established in the United States, their economic interests and their issue priorities often change in ways that benefit the GOP.

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