Tag Archives: PRRI

Culture Overwhelms Politics…Eventually

American politics is no longer about politics. Genuinely political disputes revolve around the role of government, around contending policies. That today’s GOP is consumed by very different issues should have become clear when the Party simply dispensed with the production of a platform.

Jennifer Rubin recently reported on a study of Evangelicals conducted by PRRI, the Public Religion Research Institute. The study confirmed what has become obvious to political observers: people who identify as Evangelical are claiming a political label, not a theological one. These are the voters who form the base–and constitute the majority–of today’s GOP.

A striking 71 percent of these voters think the country has gone downhill since the 1950s (when women were excluded from most professions, Black Americans faced barriers to voting, 50 million Americans still used outhouses and only about 5 percent of Americans were college-educated). Because White Protestant evangelicals make up such a large share of the GOP, that means 66 percent of Republicans want to go back to the time of “Leave It to Beaver.

Other results from the research fill in the blanks. Six in ten white evangelical Protestants (61%) believe that there is discrimination against white Americans and that such discrimination is “as big a problem as discrimination against racial minorities.”
Some 58 percent of all Americans realize that white supremacy is still a major problem, but only 33 percent of White Evangelical Protestants agree– the lowest percentage among all religious groups.

Fifty-one percent are convinced that public teachers and librarians are indoctrinating students with “inappropriate” curricula and books.

Fifty-four percent of Evangelicals believe in the “big lie” of a stolen election.

And on immigration, only 30 percent of Americans buy into the “great replacement theory.” But 51 percent of White evangelical Protestants agree that “immigrants are invading our country and replacing our cultural and ethnic background.”

I’m personally appalled by that “only” thirty percent figure…But I digress. As Rubin sums up the findings,

In a nutshell, this group’s beliefs clash with the essence of the American experiment and conflict with objective facts, demography and economics. White evangelical Protestants’ outlook is warped by right-wing media and refracted through a prism of visceral anger and resentment.

That “visceral anger and resentment” are in response to–and in conflict with– the current state of American culture.

Today’s Republicans are rejecting reality. As Rubin quite correctly notes, they want something that is unattainable. America is steadily becoming less White, less male-dominated and less religious, and no election, no politician can change that. Women are not going docilely back to the kitchen; Black and Brown folks aren’t going to regain a shuffle and “know their place.” White guys who want to be dominant are going to have to prove their bona fides–they will no longer wield control merely by virtue of their gender and skin color.

Moreover, White evangelicals are fundamentally out of step with the majority American opinion on everything from abortion to immigration to the legitimacy of the 2020 election. That, too, won’t change, no matter how angry they become.

The anger and frustration uncovered by the PRRI study (and confirmed by several others) does explain the willingness of the  GOP base to support incredibly flawed candidates.  People who feels besieged don’t cast their votes on the basis of candidate merit; as Rubin says, they “don’t much care about a candidate’s smarts, ethics or decency. Faced with a perceived existential threat, these Americans are inclined to support anyone who gives voice to their frustrations.”

That is the answer to the persistent question–why?— from those of us who have been at a loss to understand why any sane American would vote for Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Donald Trump or the other numerous, despicable culture warriors who currently populate the once-Grand Old Party.

Even the most casual student of history realizes that cultural change eventually dictates political policies and movements. But zealots hostile to the culture can do enormous damage in the meantime.

If it takes control of the House or Senate next Tuesday, the current iteration of the GOP can and probably will reverse years of social and economic progress. At a bare minimum, it will continue its assault on immigration, do further harm to the environment, and withdraw support for Ukraine– upending the global balance of power. It will weaponize its ongoing assaults on women, people of color and non-Christians, and do enormous damage to America’s constitutional liberties and to the rule of law.

What it can’t do–what it has absolutely no interest in doing–is govern.





Confirming What Most Of Us Know

Not long after the 2016 election, I had a conversation with my youngest son in which I shared my absolute amazement that any sentient person could cast a ballot for Donald Trump. How could they miss his total ignorance of government–not to mention his other repulsive characteristics? (Surely, people couldn’t see themselves having a beer with him–the usual explanation people offered for supporting George W. Bush..)

His response–which I’ve shared on this blog previously–was that every single Trump voter fell into one of two–and only two– categories: those who shared and appreciated his racism, and those for whom his racism wasn’t disqualifying.

My son’s explanation struck me as correct then, and the racist underpinnings of the MAGA movement have only become more obvious since. Now, as Jennifer Rubin has explained in a column for the Washington Post, there’s added evidence of its accuracy.

As she begins,

It has long been understood that the MAGA movement is heavily dependent on White grievance and straight-up racism. (Hence Donald Trump’s refusal to disavow racist groups and his statement that there were “very fine people on both sides” in the violent clashes at the white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville.)

Now, we have numbers supporting that thesis.

Rubin proceeds to describe a survey recently fielded by PRRI–the Public Religion Research Institute. The survey had 11 statements that had been designed to probe the respondent’s views on racism. The researchers then used their answers to quantify a “structural racism index,”basically, a score from zero to 1 that measured attitudes on “white supremacy and racial inequality, the impact of discrimination on African American economic mobility, the treatment of African Americans in the criminal justice system, general perceptions of race, and whether racism is still a significant problem today.”

The higher the score, the more receptive to racist attitudes.

The results shouldn’t surprise anyone paying attention to the MAGA crowd’s rhetoric and veneration of the Confederacy. “Among all Americans, the median value on the structural racism index is 0.45, near the center of the scale,” the poll found. “The median score on the structural racism index for Republicans is 0.67, compared with 0.45 for independents and 0.27 for Democrats.” Put differently, Republicans are much more likely to buy into the notion that Whites are victims.

The survey also looked at differences among religious groups, and found that White evangelical Protestants had the highest median score, at 0.64. Latter-day Saints, white Catholics, and white mainline Protestants all came in at a median of 0.55. Religiously unaffiliated white Americans scored 0.33.

It turned out that the “Lost Cause” –the effort to rewrite the history of the Civil War and downplay or ignore the role played by slavery– is. popular on the right:

Republicans overwhelmingly back efforts to preserve the legacy of the Confederacy (85%), compared with less than half of independents (46%) and only one in four Democrats (26%). The contrast between white Republicans and white Democrats is stark. Nearly nine in 10 white Republicans (87%), compared with 23% of white Democrats, support efforts to preserve the legacy of the Confederacy.”

That “legacy,’ of course, is treason in service of slavery.

Rubin quotes Robert P. Jones, who leads PRRI,  as saying the result is attributable to the fact that Americans don’t know their own history. That history includes a “widespread, centuries-long Christian defense of white supremacy.” Given that history, Jones says, “it’s hardly a surprise that a denial of systemic racism is a defining feature of White evangelicalism today.”

Those who want to keep Confederate monuments and offensive mascots in place might deny that their views have anything to do bigotry, but then again, they often deny the legacy of racism and paint Whites as victims, too. In general, MAGA forces have one goal when they amplify “replacement theory” or fuss over corporations promoting inclusivity: to maximize White anger and resentment.

The PRRI poll shows the degree to which the MAGA movement has convinced the core of the GOP base that they are victims. As Rubin says, “And let’s be clear: An aggrieved electoral minority that believes it has been victimized and is ready to deploy violence is a serious threat to an inclusive democracy.”

The results of this research aren’t a surprise. The survey not only confirms what most of us can see, it answers an otherwise imponderable question: why would anyone support Donald J. Trump–a truly loathsome, ignorant (and clearly mentally-ill) man without a single redeeming feature?

The answer is: He hates and fears the same people they do. And shared racism is evidently sufficient to outweigh all the rest……

The Data Keeps Coming…

Emerging data goes a long way toward explaining the increasing visibility–and acting out–of America’s White Christian Nationalists.

 As commenters to this blog frequently point out, the racial animosity so vividly on display these days is itself not a new phenomenon–far from it. But the visibility–the shamelessness– is new. The willingness to “come out”–to publicly flaunt beliefs and attitudes that had previously been soft-pedaled or hidden–and the virtually complete capture of a major American political party by people who believe that they are the only “real” Americans is a recent (and unwelcome) phenomenon.

Fear often makes people discard the veneer of civility, of course, and these folks are currently terrified. 

It’s bad enough when fear is “ginned up” by propagandists warning of immigrant caravans or computer chips hidden in vaccines, but it turns out that the White Christian Evangelical fear of being “replaced”–of becoming just another thread in a colorful American tapestry–is actually well-founded. 

I’ve recently read several media reports about a study conducted by PRRI , the Public Religion Research Institute. One, by Michelle Goldberg for the New York Times, characterizes PRRI’s findings as “startling.” Goldberg began her column by noting the major role played by the Christian Right in the election and administration of George W. Bush, and she notes that many of the leaders of that movement assumed they were on the cusp of even greater control.

The PRRI results–and others–suggest otherwise.

The evangelicals who thought they were about to take over America were destined for disappointment. On Thursday, P.R.R.I. released startling new polling data showing just how much ground the religious right has lost. P.R.R.I.’s 2020 Census of American Religion, based on a survey of nearly half a million people, shows a precipitous decline in the share of the population identifying as white evangelical, from 23 percent in 2006 to 14.5 percent last year. (As a category, “white evangelicals” isn’t a perfect proxy for the religious right, but the overlap is substantial.) In 2020, as in every year since 2013, the largest religious group in the United States was the religiously unaffiliated.

It isn’t just the shrinking numbers. White evangelicals were also the oldest religious group in the country, with a median age of 56.

“It’s not just that they are dying off, but it is that they’re losing younger members,” Jones told me. As the group has become older and smaller, Jones said, “a real visceral sense of loss of cultural dominance” has set in.

White evangelicals once saw themselves “as the owners of mainstream American culture and morality and values,” said Jones. Now they are just another subculture.

In the Washington Post, Aaron Blake also reported on the “striking”  PRRI findings.

The Public Religion Research Institute released a detailed study Thursday on Americans’ religious affiliations. Perhaps the most striking finding is on White evangelical Christians.

While this group made up 23 percent of the population in 2006 — shortly after “values voters” were analyzed to have delivered George W. Bush his reelection — that number is now down to 14.5 percent, according to the data.

Blake also notes the age disparity and the lack of youth replentishment. While 22 percent of Americans 65 and over are White evangelicals, the number is just 7 percent for those between 18 and 29 years of age.

Goldberg quotes Robert Jones, the Director of PRRI, who connects some bizarre dots.

From this fact derives much of our country’s cultural conflict. It helps explain not just the rise of Donald Trump, but also the growth of QAnon and even the escalating conflagration over critical race theory. “It’s hard to overstate the strength of this feeling, among white evangelicals in particular, of America being a white Christian country,” said Jones. “This sense of ownership of America just runs so deep in white evangelical circles.” The feeling that it’s slipping away has created an atmosphere of rage, resentment and paranoia.

QAnon is essentially a millenarian movement, with Trump taking the place of Jesus. Adherents dream of the coming of what they call the storm, when the enemies of the MAGA movement will be rounded up and executed, and Trump restored to his rightful place of leadership.

These QAnon people are unwell. If I were Christian, I’d consider Trump taking the place of Jesus an unbelievable blasphemy…

Bottom line: the PRRI study, and several others with similar findings, is both good news and bad. The diminished power of a religious sect that has been dubbed (with some accuracy) the American Taliban is clearly very good news. The accompanying rage, resentment and paranoia–and the unrest those passions encourage– is not. 

But as I indicated earlier, it explains a lot.