2022 American Values ​​Survey Offers Good News – And Bad News

As usual, PRRI’s 2022 American Values ​​Survey, released this morning, is packed with interesting data about the state of the country and how it sees itself, from views on abortion and LGBTQ rights to QAnon and immigration. The good news, as it is, coming out of this report is that Americans agree more on social issues than might be suspected. There are certainly nuances, and the picture is clouded on some fronts, but in general, Americans know what they’re thinking.

The more difficult news is that there is a consistent minority opinion fiercely opposed to the majority, and seemingly determined to impose its opinion on the rest of the nation. Longtime RD readers won’t be surprised to learn that white evangelical Christians are at the heart of that minority.

For example, consider these data points:

A staggering 92% of respondents believe that schools should teach American history fairly, even if it makes students feel “uncomfortable or guilty about what their ancestors did in the past.” 79% want contraception to remain legal. 75% oppose laws that make it illegal to cross state lines to have an abortion. 76% support non-discrimination laws to protect the GLBT community. 62% think abortion should be legal in most or all cases, and 61% oppose the Dobbs ruling that struck Roe v. Wade.

Turning things around to look at positions that are very much outnumbered is equally revealing:

42% of Americans think society has become “too soft and feminine”. 40% believe new arrivals pose a threat to American society 31% believe that “God intended America to be a new promised land where European Christians could create a society that could set an example for the rest of the world.” 28% believe the “big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump. 19% can be called “QAnon believers”, meaning they embrace the three central conspiracy theories driving the movement. Only 8% of respondents believe that abortion should be illegal in all cases. That is a remarkable decrease compared to the previous high water limit of 19% in 2014.

So it seems that there is an American consensus on social issues, and it is mostly liberal. But that is not always the case. 68% believe that contemporary citizens bear little or no responsibility for American slavery or its ongoing consequences; while 62% believe there are only two genders, although many are not strong on the subject.

And there are a few surprises in the data. For example, 24% of all respondents say they would only vote for a candidate who agrees with their position on abortion. But 27% of those are in favor of reproductive rights, while 22% are against.

There were also some mixed views on some issues, particularly around voting. Republicans, motivated by issues such as cost of living, immigration, and crime, are slightly more likely to be excited to vote (67%) than Democrats (64%), but significantly more likely to be “very excited” than Democrats (41-33).

Democrats seem to be primarily motivated this election season by things like preserving American democracy, abortion, weapons and climate change. While 67% of all respondents said they were motivated to vote by Roe’s withdrawal, the issue only came fifth on the list of critical issues for voters, after inflation, immigration, crime and the health of democracy.

The mixed posts continue on a number of social issues:

45% of respondents agree that the legacy of slavery makes it more difficult for African Americans today to escape poverty, while 51% disagree. Those surveyed support restrictive bathroom regulations for transgender people by a margin of 8 points, 52-44, even when opposing laws prohibiting medical care for gender transition in children. 48% disagree with the statement “the American way of life must be protected from foreign influences”, while 47% agree.

As is often the case, white evangelical Christians stick out like a sore thumb at these measures:

50% believe America was founded as a Christian nation 65% see immigration as a threat to society 61% believe society has become too feminine 37% oppose the overthrow of Roe v. Wade 19% agree the idea that the legacy of slavery makes upward mobility more difficult for African Americans.

From song after song, white evangelicals slide to the right. Sometimes they are closely followed by white Protestants or white Catholics, but more often than not they are quite distinct from other religious groups. It’s hard to disagree with PRRI President Robert P. Jones when he says, “The survey shows a hardening to the right among Republicans, entrenched by a white evangelical base, increasingly out of step with the values ​​of most other Americans.”

While it’s not surprising that white evangelicals are at the other end of the scale as religiously unaffiliated citizens, perhaps the most striking contrast is between white evangelicals and younger respondents, who are much more likely to favor reproductive rights, multiple genders, the freedom to use one’s own choice, to embrace it. bathroom, and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented migrants brought to the US as children. Perhaps unsurprisingly, those younger voters tend to be less religious than older members of society.

In fact, this edition of the American Values ​​Survey could be used as pretty good evidence for the proposition that there is a reciprocal relationship between conservatism and religious disaffiliation. Young people leave religious institutions partly because of disagreements with older generations about sexuality and reproduction, or they never bother to join them. The institutions they leave behind are filled with older, less educated and more conservative members.

This, of course, is almost the reverse of the theory that liberalism emptied the pews of the big churches, popular since the 1970s. The data in this study should put an end to the damaging fiction that has killed left-of-center American Christianity (a fiction historian David Hollinger is challenging in his forthcoming book covered here on RD).

But there is more to the story. Time and again we see in the comments the willingness of white evangelicals to embrace any bogeyman the Republican party throws their way. They could be immigrants, transgender people, educators, proponents of critical race theory, supposedly non-eligible voters, irresponsible black people, or women who can exercise sexual agency without fear of repercussions. Whoever they are, white evangelicals seem to have decided they are a threat to the safe and decent functioning of American society, and the GOP is more than happy to stir those sentiments for its political benefit.

Fear works, in other words, that’s why Republican advertising this cycle is filled with inflation, crime, immigration, and moral panic against transgender people. It’s a strategy designed to prove the conservative base; that is, largely white evangelical Christians.

To turn things around again, it is helpful to understand white evangelicalism not only as an increasingly conservative religious demographic, but as the religious demographic of choice for many of the more reactionary elements of the political landscape.

That choice is shaped by a shared information landscape that is ruthlessly closed off from outside influences. The people who mainly get their news from conservative news outlets are much more likely to reject the possibility of a diverse, multiracial, multiethnic democracy, according to the evidence from the American Values ​​Survey.

And white evangelicals, with their penchant for “Christian” media, pioneered and continue to embrace the reality constructed by outlets like OAN, Infowars, The Christian Post, or WorldNetDaily. It now makes them vulnerable to cynical mutations like the QAnon cult, which has grown alarmingly since 2020.

Even without the embellishments of conservative media, the environment of recent years has been conducive to the rise of intolerance. It has been fueled by authoritarian leaders like Trump, and fueled by an unprecedented pandemic and the economic uncertainty it has caused, among many other factors. In the midst of turbulence, people are reaching for clear, simple, and firm answers, exactly the sort of thing you see reflected in the answers to this survey.

To get back to where we started, the good news here is that most people in the US have a more or less tolerant view of social issues – and to a lesser extent racial issues. The bad news is that the people who are not on board with that perspective are not only a significant portion of the population, but they are also very enthusiastic and in just under two weeks they could very well be experiencing a wave of discontent with the economy to control large parts of the US government at all levels.

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