Mar 30, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Percentage of Latino Catholics eclipses white evangelicals in Southwest

Share of U.S. adults in 2022 who 
identify with a select religion, by state
Data: The American Values Atlas; Chart: Axios Visuals

Hispanic Catholics in 2022 accounted for the largest percentage of people who identify with a religion in the American Southwest, surpassing the share of white evangelicals in the region, according to a survey released last month.

The big picture: Latino Catholics have also eclipsed white mainline Protestants in California, New Mexico and Texas.

  • In the Southwest, they still find themselves underrepresented in positions of power as white evangelicals have politically dominated the region for decades.
  • Hispanic Catholics' rise comes despite an overall drop in religious affiliation among all Americans, and a growing number of Latinos who convert to evangelical faiths, according to prior reports.

By the numbers: Hispanic Catholics accounted for more than 20% of all people with a religious affiliation in California, New Mexico and Texas in 2022, according to the Public Religion Research Institute's annual American Values Atlas.

  • In Arizona, Hispanic Catholics (12%) made up a bigger percentage than white evangelicals (10%) but a slightly smaller share than white mainline Protestants (13%).
  • Evangelical Protestants are generally more loosely organized and lean more conservative than many mainline Protestants, who have a defined hierarchy and tend to be more progressive.
  • The PRRI survey includes 40,000 annual telephone interviews among a random sample of Americans. The total number of respondents who self-identified as Hispanic was 5,864.

State of play: Despite their growth, Hispanics — especially Catholics — are severely underrepresented in most state and federal elected office.

  • White evangelicals hold enormous influence over the Republican Party platform.
  • Few Hispanic Catholics have been elected to the U.S. Senate. Currently, five serve in the U.S. Senate, the most in U.S. history.
  • The nation only has one Hispanic Catholic governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico. Arizona and California have had only one Hispanic Catholic governor each in their history. Texas has had none.

Between the lines: A large portion of Hispanic Catholics are under 18, are not U.S. citizens and can't vote, which contributes to their lack of political power despite growing numbers.

  • White evangelical Republicans also have been able to hold on to power because of political gerrymandering, says Andrew Chesnut, the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan chairman in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Yes, but: New Mexico, where 23% of residents are Hispanic Catholics, is the exception. Hispanics, many of whom are Catholic, hold almost all statewide offices, and a majority of the state's congressional delegation identifies as Hispanic and Catholic.

But, but, but: Unaffiliated or "nones" represent the largest percentage of people in the latest survey.

  • The study did not break down the unaffiliated category by ethnicity.
  • The percentage of Hispanics in the U.S. who identify as atheists or agnostics grew in the past 12 years, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

The intrigue: The percentage of Hispanic evangelicals in Texas grew by nearly 30% from 2013 to 2022. But the share of Hispanic evangelicals in New Mexico declined by 50% over that same time period.

  • Chesnut said Hispanic evangelicals tend to be more conservative than Latino Catholics around LGBTQ+ issues but more progressive than white evangelicals on immigration.

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