Election Survey: White Evangelicals Remain Cultural Outliers on Race, Trump, Immigration

2018 Midterm Elections White Supremacist Violence

Religion Dispatches OMFG

Election Survey: White Evangelicals Remain Cultural Outliers on Race, Trump, Immigration

Candace E. West

White evangelical Protestants have the dubious distinction of turning the blindest eye among religious groups to systemic racism in police brutality against Black men.

On Monday, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) released the results of their 2018 American Values Survey. Much of it comes as no surprise: Democrats are more likely than Republicans to list the cost of health care as a primary factor in their midterm voting plans (41 percent vs. 34 percent), while Republicans are more likely to point to the economy (44 percent vs. 24 percent). Nearly half of Americans (48 percent) and a majority of women (53 percent vs. 42 percent of men) think the #MeToo movement has had a positive effect, while more men believe it has been unfair to men (23 percent vs 14 percent). Eighty-two percent of Black people and only 44 percent of white people believe that recent instances of police killing Black people are part of a larger pattern rather than separate, singular events.

Perhaps the more surprising information in the survey comes when we focus on how white evangelical Protestants’ views compare to those of the other major religious demographics surveyed.

In general terms, majorities of every major religious group—except white evangelicals—believe that Trump has “damaged the dignity of the presidency”: 68 percent of white mainline Protestants and 67 percent of Catholics, for example, compared to only 47 percent of white evangelical Protestants.

Most religious groups believe that it will be “mostly positive” when the United States becomes a majority-nonwhite nation: 81 percent of Hispanic Catholics and 80 percent of Black Protestants, nearly three quarters (74 percent) of all nones, and about half (51 percent) of all white Catholics and white mainline Protestants. Conversely, white evangelical Protestants are the only major religious demographic in the United States for which a majority (61 percent) say that this change will be “mostly negative.”

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Relatedly, white evangelical Protestants are the only major religious group in the country in which a majority (57 percent) say that immigrants pose a threat to “traditional American customs and values.” White mainline Protestants and white Catholics fare only a tiny bit better, split nearly down the middle at 48 percent and 47 percent, respectively. On the other hand, 63 percent of Hispanic and 67 percent of Black Protestants say that immigrants have a positive effect on U.S. society, as do roughly three-quarters of Hispanic Catholics (76 percent) and nones (73 percent).

To return to police killings of Black men: As stated above, PRRI’s report shows only 44 percent of white Americans believe that these deaths are part of a systemic problem. Given that, it’s unsurprising that most white mainline Protestants and Catholics (59 percent and 63 percent, respectively) view the killings as isolated incidents.

Still, white evangelical Protestants have the dubious distinction of turning the blindest eye among religious groups to systemic racism in police brutality against Black men: 71 percent of white evangelical Protestants see no larger issue. Only 43 percent of Hispanic Catholics share this view, and roughly one-third of nones (33 percent) and Hispanic Protestants (32 percent). Among Black Protestants, only 15 percent say the killings are isolated incidents. 

But perhaps the most damning and depressing statistics in this current news cycle are these:

  • On Saturday, an anti-Semitic, Trump-supporting gunman killed 11 people while they attended services at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
  • On Sunday, progressive Jewish organization Bend the Arc released an open letter to Trump demanding that he stop targeting Jews, Muslims, people of color, journalists, LGBTQ people, and immigrants with lies, harmful policies, and violent rhetoric. The Trump administration continues to deny any responsibility, even as they continue to blame the press.
  • On Monday, PRRI’s report was released publicly and showed that sizable majorities of all religious groups but three acknowledge that Trump’s “both-sides” rhetoric and openly racist language and policies have emboldened white supremacists in United States. Black Protestants affirm this at an overwhelming 75 percent, as do 69 percent of Nones and 68 percent of Hispanic Catholics. Sixty-four percent of non-Christians and 63 percent of Hispanic Protestants say the same.
  • Only 43 percent of white mainline Protestants and white Catholics report believing that Trump has encouraged white supremacists. Only 26 percent of white evangelical Protestants share this view.
  • White evangelicals still comprise roughly 25 percent of the electorate.