There is an analytical rule–really, a problem-solving principle– called Occam’s Razor. It is sometimes called the principle of parsimony, and is basically a reminder that the simplest explanation is usually the best explanation.
A recent poll has confirmed my belief that there is a simple, albeit terrifying, explanation for America’s current deep polarization: White Christian Nationalism.
Although I have long believed that worldview to be the source of a lot of our current unrest, before this particular poll, I really had no clue just how deeply entrenched and widespread that worldview is.
A new survey finds that fewer than a third of Americans, or 29%, qualify as Christian nationalists, and of those, two-thirds define themselves as white evangelicals.
The survey of 6,212 Americans by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution is the largest yet to gauge the size and scope of Christian nationalist beliefs.
The study found–unsurprisingly–that Christian nationalists tend to be older (some two-thirds are over the age of 50). They are also far less educated than other Americans. At most, 20% of Christian nationalism supporters have a four-year college degree, far fewer than the 79% of respondents who were labeled “skeptics” because they rejected the principles of Christian nationalism.
Christian nationalism as a worldview is not new but the term is. Indeed, a third of respondents said they had not heard of the term. For that reason, it’s impossible to say whether the ranks of Christian nationalists have grown over time.
In their book “Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States,” sociologists Andrew Whitehead and Sam Perry found that about 20% of Americans strongly embrace Christian nationalist ideas. The PRRI survey is more in line with a 2021 Pew Research survey that found that 10% of Americans are what Pew identified as hard-core “faith and flag” conservatives.
The survey did confirm that Americans overall reject a Christian nationalist worldview by a ratio of 2 to 1.
In an essay for the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin considered the implications of the survey. As she noted, most of us have only a vague understanding of the term.
When you hear the phrase “Christian nationalists,” you might think of antiabortion conservatives who are upset about the phrase “Happy Holidays” and embrace a vaguely “America First” way of thinking. But according to a Public Religion Research Institute-Brookings Institution poll released Wednesday, Christian nationalists in fact harbor a set of extreme beliefs at odds with pluralistic democracy. The findings will alarm you.
Rubin enumerated the beliefs held by these adherents:
“The U.S. government should declare America a Christian nation.”
“U.S. laws should be based on Christian values.”
“If the U.S. moves away from our Christian foundations, we will not have a country anymore.”
“Being Christian is an important part of being truly American.”
“God has called Christians to exercise dominion over all areas of American society.”
PRRI found that 10 percent (“adherents”) of American adults believe in these ideas overwhelmingly or completely; 19 percent agree but not completely (“sympathizers”); 39 percent disagree (“skeptics”) but not completely; and 29 percent disagree completely (“rejecters”).
Nearly two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants are Christian Nationalists–either sympathizers (35%) or adherents (29%).” More troubling, the poll found that thirty-five percent of all Whites are adherents.
Those percentages mean that tens of millions of Americans hold these views. And as the poll confirmed, those Americans are overwhelmingly Republican. Republicans (21%) were found to be about four times as likely as Democrats (5%) or independents (6%) to be Christian nationalists.
Fortunately, the news isn’t all bad.
There are fewer adherents and sympathizers among younger Americans. “More than seven in ten Americans ages 18-29 (37% skeptics, 42% rejecters) and ages 30-49 (37% skeptics, 35% rejecters) lean toward opposing Christian nationalism.” Support is also inversely related to educational attainment.
You will not be surprised to discover the depths of racism and racial grievance among these adherents. A stunning 83 percent of them think Whites are being discriminated against, and that “God intended America to be a new promised land where European Christians could create a society that could be an example to the rest of the world.”
More than 70 percent embrace replacement theory, and nearly one-quarter say that Jews hold too many positions of power; 44 percent believe Jews are more loyal to Israel than America. More than 65 percent agree that Muslims from some countries should be banned. Almost 70 percent believe “the husband is the head of the household in ‘a truly Christian family’ and his wife submits to his leadership.”
If you think this sounds like MAGA tripe, you’re right. This is the hardcore MAGA base. More alarming: “Nearly six in ten QAnon believers are also either Christian nationalism sympathizers (29%) or adherents (29%).”
Rubin says that believers in American values have our work cut out for us.