(RNS) — When Andre Audette first arrived at Notre Dame for grad school, he got a brochure about living in South Bend, Indiana.
That brochure included a section on churches and advice on which Catholic parish to attend if you were conservative and which to attend if you were liberal.
While Audette ignored the brochure’s advice — choosing a different parish altogether — the link between church shopping and politics stuck with him.
“I found that kind of fascinating,” said Audette, now an assistant professor of political science at Monmouth College in Central Illinois.
Audette is co-author of a new study on the role politics plays in finding a church, published in “Religion and Politics,” a journal of the American Political Science Association. The study — based on a survey of 2,000 Americans — found about half of those surveyed said they had gone shopping for a new church. The survey also found about 1 in 10 Americans (11.1%) said they’d left a church for political reasons, with another 7% saying they’d “seriously considered” leaving their church over politics.
Evangelical Christians (81%) were most likely to have shopped for a new church.
Mainline Protestants (30%) and atheists (32%) were most likely to say they’d left a church or thought about leaving over politics. Atheists (16%) were least likely to have shopped for a new church, while Black Protestants (13%) were least likely to have left a church due to politics.
When it comes to politics, Mainline Protestant churches are in a difficult spot, because they are more politically diverse than either evangelical churches or Black Protestant churches. In the 2020 election, 91% of Black Protestant voters supported Democratic candidate Joe Biden, while 84% of white evangelical voters voted for Republican candidate Donald Trump, according to analysis by Pew Research.
Mainline Protestants, which Pew described as “white, non-evangelical” Christians, were split — with 43% voting for Biden, 57% for Trump.
When they are shopping for a new church, evangelicals go looking for another conservative evangelical church like the one they left, where most people vote Republican, said Audette.
“Democrats are mostly just leaving the more liberal denominations,” he said. “It’s a hard time to be a mainline Protestant right now.”