New PRRI Survey Shows White Evangelicals Will Be “Left Behind”

PRRI’s latest major survey, “The Divide over America’s Future: 1950 or 2050,” released just this morning, provides a sobering look at just how divided America remains on issues of race, class, gender and politics. Here’s the upshot: White evangelicals, and white mainline protestants want to go back to the power they had prior to 1954’s Brown V. Board of Education, and the modern day Civil Rights Movement. Some of the highlights (or, for some, lowlights):

  • The group with the most fatalistic view of American cultural change are white evangelical Protestants, three quarters of whom (74%) say that American culture has changed for the worse since 1950.
  • A majority of Republicans (55%) believe that America is so off track that we need a leader who is willing to “break the rules,” while 57% of Democrats disagree with that statement.
  • A majority of white Americans say that Donald Trump is the most trustworthy candidate in the 2016 election (54%) while Blacks and Hispanics say that Hillary Clinton is the most trustworthy candidate (71% and 59% respectively).
  • Among Americans as a whole Hillary Clinton is perceived to have much stronger religious beliefs than Donald Trump (50% v. 36%), though white evangelical Protestants say that Trump has much stronger religious beliefs (58% vs 28%)
  • Most Americans reject banning Muslims from the United States (56%), yet a sizable minority (43%) express support for some kind of ban. A Majority of white evangelical Protestants (62%) and white mainline Protestants (54%) favor the temporary ban. White Catholics are split evenly.
  • The majority of Hispanic Catholics (62%), black Protestants (68%), members of non-Christian religions (70%)  and religiously unaffiliated Americans (74%) reject the ban on Muslims in the United States.

These statistics, along with many others covering immigration, the state of the nation, trade and foreign policy, the criminal justice system, and the state of the nation tell an interesting tale: white protestants, and white evangelicals even more strongly, consistently fall to the right of Blacks and Hispanics on many issues.

White Protestants are also more willing to accept an authoritarian leader who breaks rules in order to fix what they believe is wrong with America. This nostalgia and the sense that America is failing and floundering dovetails well with white Protestant beliefs about persecution, the end times, and the decline of so called “civilization.” No surprise that significant portions of these groups perceive Donald Trump, despite three marriages, numerous claims of sexual abuse, and questionable business practices, to be more trustworthy and to possess stronger religious beliefs than Hillary Clinton.

For white Protestants and evangelicals the 2016 election cycle truly is, in the words of PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones, “The End of White Christian America.” The carefully built and curated political alliance between evangelicals and the Republican party has brought both of them to the brink, and this survey highlights just how far evangelicals’ moral influence has failed.

It also makes clear that while Jim Wallis and others may say ‘not all evangelicals’ and try to lump blacks and Hispanics into the evangelical definition, that obscures the fact that these groups vote far differently than their white counterparts. These are also the groups that suffer the most from policies white evangelicals and protestants support. The PRRI survey does an excellent job of revealing this divide, and rendering Wallis’ bid to grandfather evangelicals of color in to the larger fold dubious at best.

The upshot of this survey is that white evangelicals want to go back to Ozzie and Harriet—in time, behavior, and gender roles. This does not bode well for their influence in the future, and their embrace of Donald Trump and his alt-right followers will hurt them far more than they can imagine politically. This excellent report shows that despite all of their protestations, white evangelicals and Protestants are truly the ones who are left behind.