(RNS) — A new survey finds that fewer than a third of Americans, or 29%, qualify as Christian nationalists, and of those, two-thirds define themselves as white evangelicals.
The survey of 6,212 Americans by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution is the largest yet to gauge the size and scope of Christian nationalist beliefs.
It finds that 10% of Americans are avowed Christian nationalists, what the survey calls “adherents,” while an additional 19% are sympathetic to Christian nationalist ideals.
Among both groups combined, nearly two-thirds are white evangelicals. The rest are Protestants who identify as Asian American, mixed race, Black and Hispanic. Majorities of white mainline Protestants, Catholics, Jews, members of other non-Christian faiths and unaffiliated Americans, on the other hand, reject or mostly reject Christian nationalism. (The survey calls them “skeptics” and “rejecters.”)
Attention to Christian nationalism has grown rapidly in the past few years, especially in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The term describes a religious and political belief system that argues the United States was founded by God to be a Christian nation. In the survey, supporters of Christian nationalism were identified by their responses to five statements, including: “The U.S. should be declared a Christian nation,” and “God has called Christians to exercise dominion over all areas of American society.” They were then assigned a place on a Christian nationalism scale.
Unlike other studies that have suggested Christian nationalists are only nominally churchgoing, the PRRI/Brookings survey found Christian nationalists are significantly more likely than other Americans to be connected to churches and to say religion is important in their lives.
“There’s a strong positive correlation between frequency of church attendance and likelihood of being a Christian nationalism adherent or sympathizer,” said Robert P. Jones, president and founder of PRRI. “Christian nationalism adherents are more than six times as likely as Christian nationalism rejectors to attend church weekly.”
Avowed Christian nationalists also tend to be older, with about two-thirds of Christian nationalists and their sympathizers over the age of 50, the survey said, and are far less educated than other Americans. Only 20% of Christian nationalism supporters have a four-year college degree, compared with 79% of those who were labeled skeptics or rejecters of Christian nationalism.
Christian nationalism as a worldview is not new but the terms is. Indeed, a third of respondents said they had not heard of the term. For that reason, it’s impossible to say whether the ranks of Christian nationalists have grown over time.
In their book “Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States,” sociologists Andrew Whitehead and Sam Perry found that about 20% of Americans strongly embrace Christian nationalist ideas. The PRRI survey is more in line with a 2021 Pew Research survey that found that 10% of Americans are what Pew identified as hard-core “faith and flag” conservatives.
Whatever the precise number, the survey confirms that by a ratio of 2-to-1, Americans reject a Christian nationalist worldview.
The vast majority of Americans (70%) do not think the government should declare America a Christian nation. And nearly 60% do not think its laws should be based on Christian values.
Most Americans (73%) said they preferred a country made up of a diversity of faiths and not just Christianity.
Still, Christian nationalists have an outsized influence in American politics.
More than half of Republicans now identify as Christian nationalist or sympathizers, the survey concludes. Some members of Congress, notably Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, proudly endorse the label. Former President Donald Trump called himself a nationalist, and the survey finds Christian nationalists have far more favorable views of Trump than the general population.
That makes the political power of Christian nationalists far greater than their actual numbers in the population.
“If we were in Europe and had four or five political parties, we’d have a Christian nationalist party and it would represent a quarter of the country or 30% at most,” said Jones. “But because we have this binary system, that group loads into one political party. That’s why the country feels divided.”
Christian nationalist influence is also felt theologically. Two-thirds of Christian nationalists believe that biblical obligations to the poor are more about charitable acts by individuals rather than the task of a just society. Americans as a whole are divided; 54% say biblical injunctions to care for the poor are about charitable acts by individuals, compared with 47% who believe they are primarily talking about our obligation to create a just society.
Those who identify as Christian nationalists overwhelmingly trust far-right news outlets such as One America News Network, Newsmax or Fox to deliver their news.
On issues such as race, immigration and Islam their views diverge significantly from that of most Americans.
Four in 10 Americans (41%) agreed that discrimination against white Americans is as big of a problem as discrimination against Black Americans. But among avowed Christian nationalists (85%) and sympathizers (73%) who are white, overwhelming numbers agree that discrimination against whites is as big a problem as discrimination against Blacks.
About a third of Americans affirm the core tenet of so-called great replacement theory, the belief that immigrants are “invading our country and replacing our cultural and ethnic background.” But 71% of avowed Christian nationalists and 57% of Christian nationalist sympathizers agree the replacement theory is taking place.
Fewer than 4 in 10 Americans (39%) believe that the values of Islam are at odds with American values and the American way of life. But a majority of Christian nationalists say the Muslim faith is at odds with the American way of life, between 58% and 69%.
Not all Christian nationalists are white, the survey found, but white Christian nationalists hold consistent views on race, immigration and Islam.
Speaking to the results of the survey at a Brookings Institution forum Wednesday, Jemar Tisby, a historian and author of “The Color of Compromise” and “How to Fight Racism,” concluded: “White Christian nationalism is the greatest threat to democracy and the witness of the church in the United States today.”
The survey was conducted online between November and December last year. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.6 percentage points.
(This story was was reported with support from the Stiefel Freethought Foundation.)