Top 4 Evangelical findings from 2021 PRRI American Values Survey

Each year the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization, publishes an American Values Survey. The full 2021 results were recently published.

What is rather startling is that it reveals a few things about Evangelicals that are quite disturbing. It highlights that as a demographic they really are an anomaly.

How did PRRI compose this latest survey?

They conducted online Interviews with a representative sample of 2,508 adults (age 18 and up) living in all 50 states in the United States. These are all individuals who are part of Ipsos’s Knowledge Panel. The interviews were conducted between September 16 and 29, 2021.

The full report is available here.

The full report is long, comprehensive and very details. I’ve simply cherry-picked a few rather interesting insights.

Insight 1 – Declining Belief in a Divinely Ordained Role for America

There exists a long held belief that God granted America a special role in Human History. Compared to survey results from 2013, that belief has greatly declined. That’s the big positive here.

Guess which group still strongly embraces this concept?

Well yes, you know, but first, here are the numbers for this by political affiliation …

Evangelical Insight: They really stand out here, 75% of White Evangelical Protestants still seriously believe that God has specially chosen the US. Weird as that might be, it is a decline from the 84% of them who embraced this idea as “truth” in 2013, so things are actually getting better.

As for percentages of other groups who buy into this …

  • Hispanic Catholics 50%
  • Mainline Protestants 46%
  • Non-Christian religions 29%
  • Religiously unaffiliated 18%

The idea itself is actually quite old. Back in 1630 John Winthrop, Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, promoted the idea that “America had been providentially chosen for a special destiny”. The concept has persisted and is still very much with us today.

Insight 2 – Religious Diversity

The survey had a scale that ran from “I would prefer the US to be made up of people belonging to a wide variety of religions” through to “I would prefer the US to be a nation primarily made up of people who follow the Christian Faith“.

Guess what most Evangelicals said?

Well yes, once again you know where this is going. We will come to it shortly.

First, let me bring you the answer to another question. They asked people to list the traits that they associated with being truly American. Within that list you find answers such as this …

  • Accepting people of diverse racial and religious backgrounds – 92%

OK, hold that thought and let’s jump back and look at the Religious Diversity numbers …

Second line in the above is rather different than all the others – 57% of evangelicals, a number far greater than any other demographic, expressed a strong desire to live inside a religious bubble and that all other variations of belief can simply f**k right off.

A couple of points here …

  • Not all evangelicals are religiously intolerant, but clearly the majority of them are.
  • For many of them, this conflicts with their own expression of what it means to be “Truly American” – remember 92% clearly articulated acceptance of both racial and religious diversity being an American trait.

We perhaps don’t need PRRI statistics to confirm what many already know. Christian Nationalists strongly desire to pass laws that promote their specific distorted version of history and promote just their specific variation of belief. This intolerance has polarised society and created a great deal of tension.

Pro Tip: Calling out their intolerance is not a “polarising stance”. This is very much on them.

Insight 3 – Conspiracies and QAnon

The majority of white evangelicals, 60%, believe the lie that the election was stolen.

Other denominations simply do not have such a huge percentage who are that gullible and stupid …

  • White Catholics – 40%
  • mainline Protestants – 37%
  • Hispanic Catholics – 19%
  • Black Protestants – 18%
  • Unaffiliated Americans – 17%

Why is it like this?

PRRI have data the pulls back the curtain on that …

One other correlation related to this is that the more education you have the less probable it is that you embrace the lie as “truth” …

  • High school or less – 38%
  • some college – 32%
  • four-year degree – 24%
  • postgraduate degree – 14%

If you are now wallowing in a bit of despair regarding the utter gullibility and crass stupidity of many, then you better pop your seat belt on for this next bit.

Around one in five Americans agree with these three core tenets of the QAnon movement:

  1. “There is a storm coming soon that will sweep away the elites in power and restore the rightful leaders” (21%).
  2. The government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan- worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex-trafficking operation” (18%).
  3. Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country” (18%).

Once again the one group that is really outstanding here, not in a good way, are the white evangelicals – 23% of them are most likely to be QAnon cult believers.

Insight 4 – Supporting Violence

A good chunk of the folks who have perhaps once read in the bible the phrase “turn the other cheek”, have opted to go “Nah”. 26% of white evangelicals agree with the thought that they might have to resort to violence fo save the nation.

If they happen to be a Trump supporter, then the percentage of that subset that supports violence grows to 39%.

Of those that most trust far right news, 40% of them support violence.

Let’s sum this up

What it all reveals is perhaps for some a surprise, but to others, not so much.

What we learn about White Evangelicals from this latest poll is this …

  • 75% believe that God has specially chosen the US
  • 57% would very much like the US to be an exclusively Christian nation
  • 60% believe the 2020 election was stolen
  • 26% believe that political violence is wholly appropriate to “save the nation”

They are not only being lied to by right-wing news outlets that promote fiction as “truth”, but they are being radicalised and as a result they are embracing a lie that might motivate many to turn to violence. We should be more than a little bit worried about where this will take us.

I was once myself evangelical, but I no longer am. Looking at all of this, I am literally ashamed and deeply embarrassed that I was once part of it all. If I was still inside, then I would be deeply concerned (or perhaps radicalised and utterly oblivious to that).

One last thought. What perhaps partially explains much of this has been something I wrote about the other day, the emergence of the non-religious evangelical. Close to 27% of them are not actually religious and don’t attend a church at all.

Further Reading

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