A Divided America The Intersection of Religion and Politics

While I have posted on this subject in other postings, I have only recently become aware of another analysis by a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization that looks at American society at the intersection of research, culture and public policy. In its 2019 American Values Survey, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) provides us with an interesting snapshot into how religion impacts political persuasion and how it impacts Americans' concerns about the direction that the United States is heading.  Here are some highlights from the report.

Let's start by looking at the critical issues and how Republicans and Democrats rate the importance of each issue:

1.) Health Care – 48 percent Republicans 77 percent Democrats

2.) Climate Change – 17 percent Republicans 72 percent Democrats

3.) Foreign Interference in Elections – 26 percent Republicans 72 percent Democrats

4.) Terrorism – 63 percent Republicans 50 percent Democrats

5.) Immigration – 60 percent Republicans 49 percent Democrats

6.) Crime – 50 percent Republicans 46 percent Democrats

As time has passed, the importance of issues to Americans has changed.  Since 2016, the percentage of Americans that believe that terrorism is of concern has fallen from 70 percent to 54 percent, concerns over jobs and unemployment has fallen from 61 percent to 45 percent, concerns about crime has fallen from 54 percent to 45 percent and concerns about the federal deficit has fallen from 49 percent to 40 percent even though the federal deficit has done this:

Over the three year period from 2016, certain issues have become more important to Americans.  Americans' concern for presidential electoral fairness has grown from 41 percent to 48 percent, concerns over immigration have grown from 44 percent to 49 percent and concerns over climate change have grown from 34 percent to 49 percent, a rather significant increase.

Now, let's look at how religious affiliation impacts the top three issues for each group:

It is interesting to note that health care one of the top three issues of concern for Americans of all religious affiliations whereas the fairness of presidential elections is a top three issue of concern only for black Protestants, non-Christians and Americans with no religious affiliation.  Climate change is another key issue that is of concern only for Hispanic Catholics, non-Christians and Americans with no religious affiliation.

Here is a graphic showing Donald Trump's jobs approval and strength of support by party affiliation and religious affiliation:

As you can see, religious affiliation  has a strong impact on support for Donald Trump.  Trump is supported by 82 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning independent white evangelical Protestants who prefer him to be the Republican Party's nominee.  Trump is also supported as nominee by 75 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning white mainline Protestants and 73 percent of white Catholics.  By way of comparison, 60 percent of Catholic Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and 65 percent of religiously unaffiliated voters support Trump's candidacy. When it comes to Donald Trump's behaviour, 52 percent of white evangelical Protestants wish Trump's speech and behaviour were like previous presidents compared to 68 percent of other Christians, 70 percent of Catholics, 72 percent of white mainline Protestants, 74 percent of Hispanic Protestants, 81 percent of black Protestants, 69 percent of non-Christian religious Americans and 85 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans.

Donald Trump's personal conduct has also had a varying impact on his support levels by both party and religious affiliation as shown here:

Only 36 percent of white evangelical Protestants state that Trump's behaviour makes it less likely that they will support him, the lowest level of all religious groups in the United States.  Trump's behaviour gets the poorest reviews by both unaffiliated Americans and black Protestants with 76 percent and 80 percent respectively stating that his behaviour has made it less likely that they will support him.

American society is becoming increasingly polarized.  This survey by the Public Religion Research Institute shows us that religion plays a very significant role in the societal divisions that have become apparent in the United States since November 2016.

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