New poll is a roadmap to Republican grievance in 2022 | Wednesday Morning Coffee

Think the country’s gotten worse since the 1950s — and want to go back? You’re probably a white evangelical Protestant

November 2, 2022 7:18 am

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 06: A pro-Trump mob breaks into the U.S. Capitol on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

A new poll provides an eye-opening glimpse into the values and motivations of the modern Republican Party, and the cultural and political forces that will drive the party faithful to the polls on Nov. 8.

The latest American Values poll by the Public Religion Research Institute also zooms in on the views of white evangelical Protestants who backed former President Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020, and who continue to speak with an outsized voice in GOP politics.

“Approximately three-quarters of Americans agree that the country is heading in the wrong direction, but there is considerable division over whether the country needs to move backward — toward an idealized, homogeneous past — or forward, toward a more diverse future,” pollsters noted.

And while “most Americans favor moving forward, a sizable minority yearn for a country reminiscent of the 1950s, embrace the idea that God created America to be a new promised land for European Christians, view newcomers as a threat to American culture, and believe that society has become too soft and feminine,” pollsters further observed.

That’s borne out by the data: Republicans, and more specifically white evangelical protestants, were more inclined to say the country is headed in the wrong direction (93 percent for both), and that the culture of the country has gotten worse since the 1950s (71 percent for evangelicals), the data showed.

The data also reveal both a faith and racial divide on that perception: Majorities of white Americans (51 percent), white Catholics (53 percent) and white mainline Protestants (51 precent) also said the country has gotten worse since the 1950s.

Meanwhile, less than half of Black Protestants (48 percent), Hispanic Catholics (44 percent), religiously unaffiliated Americans (37 percent) and non-Christian religious Americans (35 percent) say things have gotten worse since the 1950s, the poll showed.

Older Americans — those aged 65 and up — also are more likely to say life in the country has gotten worse than younger Americans. And that viewpoint matches media consumption, pollsters noted, with those who most trust conservative media (77 percent) and Fox News (70 percent) also feeling that way.

Most disturbingly, but not surprisingly, since the sacking of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, pollsters found that “people who agree that things have gotten so far off track that true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country are more likely than those who disagree with that statement to say the country has changed for the worse (71 percent vs. 43 percent).”

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, attends the Senate Education Committee Hearing held at the Pennsylvania Capitol on May 24, 2022 in Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg, for the Capital-Star).
State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, attends the Senate Education Committee hearing held at the Pennsylvania Capitol on May 24, 2022 in Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg for the Capital-Star).

About a third of all respondents (31 percent) agreed with the unbiblical and ahistorical premise 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,” pollsters found.

Agreement among Republicans was again the strongest, with just under half (49 percent) giving it the thumbs up, along with 50 percent of white evangelicals.

Nearly a third of white Americans (32 percent) also agreed, according to the poll. And once again, those who put the most trust in conservative media sources (66 percent) and Fox News (54 percent) also were more inclined to agree.

And if you guessed that this same cohort was hostile to immigrants — congratulations, you were right.

Nearly “seven in ten Republicans (69 percent) say newcomers are a threat, compared with a far lower percentage of independents (37 percent) and Democrats (17 percent). Eight in ten Democrats (81 percent) and 28 percent of Republicans say newcomers from other countries strengthen American society,” pollsters found.

That belief was stronger among white Christian subgroups, with nearly two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants (65 percent) saying newcomers are a threat, as did a slim majority of white mainline Protestants (53 percent) and half of white Catholics (50 percent), according to the poll.

White voters without a college degree, who made up a key part of former President Donald Trump’s coalition, and who are now a key part of the GOP’s base, were more likely than college-educated white voters (53-34 percent) to say newcomers pose a threat, the poll found.

Abortion rights advocates. (Photo by Astrid Riecken/Getty Images).
Abortion rights advocates. (Photo by Astrid Riecken/Getty Images).

Meanwhile, more than two-thirds of Republicans told pollsters they believe society has “become too soft and feminine,” with strong agreement (61 percent) among white evangelicals.

A slim majority on mainline white Protestants also agree (51 percent), as do 47 percent of white Catholics, and 46 percent of all other Christians according to the poll.

Given these findings, it’s probably no surprise that just 19 percent of white Evangelicals agree that the legacy of slavery and decades of discrimination have limited Black Americans’ economic mobility. And despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, only 31 percent of Republicans say they believe Black Americans are more likely to receive a death sentence.

That makes a tragic kind of sense, with nearly two-thirds of Republicans agreeing that discrimination against white Americans has become as big a problem as discrimination against racial minorities. Six in 10 white evangelicals agree with the statement, as do 52 percent of white mainline Protestants and nearly half of white Catholics (48 percent).

And with all of that, nearly six in 10 Americans (58 percent) say white supremacy is still a major problem in the country, with agreement stronger among Democrats (86 percent) and independents (60 percent), compared to barely a third of Republicans (30 percent).

The same faith divides also exist, with white evangelicals least likely to agree (33 percent). And less than half of other Christians (49 percent) agree as well, pollsters found.

But “majorities of all other religious groups agree that white supremacy remains a problem, including Black Protestants (88 percent), Hispanic Catholics (73 percent), those affiliated with non-Christian religions (72 percent), those unaffiliated with any religious tradition (71 percent), and white mainline Protestants (54 percent), as well as half of white Catholics (50 percent),” pollsters found.

And more than three-quarters of “Black Americans (78 percent) agree that white supremacy is still a problem today, while white Americans are more divided (52 percent agree and 45 percent disagree),” pollsters found, adding that  “majorities of Hispanic Americans and Americans of other races also agree (65 percent and 61 percent, respectively).”

The poll’s findings have profound implications for American democracy, which already is under threat, with one party, and its most fervent adherents, opposed to the religious and cultural pluralism that has made the country stronger, and in denial of the larger demographic forces that are going to continue to move it in that same direction.

The nation has been through similar demographic shifts in the past, and came through them by recognizing — and embracing — the reality that our diversity makes us stronger, not weaker.

That’s the real American story.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.