AMANDA: Hi. This is Amanda (ph), and I'm in Dublin, Ireland. I am about to head out for my class for my last semester of school. This podcast was recorded at...
SUSAN DAVIS, HOST:
1:11 p.m. on Wednesday, February 15.
AMANDA: Things may have changed by the time you hear it, but I will still be trying to figure out how it can be raining on me even when the sky is blue.
AMANDA: All right, here's the show.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")
DAVIS: I, too, would like a semester in Dublin. How do I get one of those?
DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: That sounds lovely. Good for her.
ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: Yeah. That's the best conditions for rain.
DAVIS: Rainy and sunny all at the same time. And you know what? You can always see a rainbow. Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Susan Davis. I cover politics.
LOPEZ: I'm Ashley Lopez. I also cover politics.
KURTZLEBEN: And I'm Danielle Kurtzleben. I, too, cover politics.
DAVIS: And today, we are talking about Christian nationalism and its foothold in American politics, particularly within the Republican Party. Ashley, you've covered a new survey out from the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute and the Washington think tank, the Brookings Institution, that's been looking at this issue. And before we get to what the survey found, can you start by defining what Christian nationalism means?
LOPEZ: Yeah. So, I mean, Christian nationalism is a worldview that operates under the belief that the United States is a Christian nation - right? - and that all its laws should be therefore rooted in Christian values. I mean, I should note this is, like, not a new worldview in the United States.
LOPEZ: This has been a belief among many Americans, yeah, throughout our history. And it's been particularly widely held, I should say, in mostly, like, white evangelical spaces. But as demographics have shifted in this country, you know, this belief has kind of morphed into maybe more overtly political and anti-democratic in some cases, which we can definitely talk about.
DAVIS: So what did the survey reveal about these Christian nationalist attitudes?
LOPEZ: So in the United States as a whole, it's not a popular stance. According to the PRRI/Brookings study, only about 10% of Americans view themselves as either adherents of Christian nationalism. And, like, a little less than 20% of Americans said they sympathize with these views. But what is worth noting is that this belief has a lot of support when you look at just Republicans. In that case, about 54% of that population either adheres or sympathizes with this - these views, which is significant. And this is pretty good data because PRRI and Brookings surveyed about 6,000 people, which is a pretty good sample. And they strategically oversampled Republicans so that they could get a good sense of, like, what this belief structure looks like within the party.
KURTZLEBEN: And we should be abundantly clear that it would be unfair to call this a wholly religious movement or even a primarily religious movement. When we're talking about Christian nationalism, we are talking about a very particular mixture of beliefs, a whole entire subculture. Like, yes, being Christian is necessary to be a Christian nationalist, but is by no means sufficient because what the survey and Ashley's reporting reveals is that Christian nationalist beliefs are highly correlated with a whole bunch of other beliefs that are not necessarily Christian, that are not necessarily biblically rooted. There are a lot of beliefs about what it means to be a patriot, about gender, about race, about the military, about all sorts of things, about violence. And of course, as we know, the Bible has a lot in it that is about pacifism. So this is a very, very particular cultural view we're talking about here.
DAVIS: Ashley, is it fair to consider this a fringe ideology, especially when you consider that the vast majority of this country still does identify as Christian, but Christian nationalism, at least in this context, seems like it comes from more of a political worldview than a religious spiritual belief?
LOPEZ: Yeah, I mean, from a data perspective, like, I don't know, what - does 10% feel very fringe? I don't know that it does feel particularly fringe. And when you tell me that, you know, more than half of that party has people who either adhere or sympathize with that view, it doesn't feel very fringe. But I will say, you know, I think that's where there - a lot of tension will come from because as a nation, 10% is definitely nowhere near a majority. And so, you know, I think as some of the more anti-democratic and some of the other maybe more contentious parts of this movement get pushback, who knows, like, how this will change over time. But right now it feels like it's definitely - Christian nationalism as a viewpoint is really in, like, an inflection point. A lot of that is because, I mentioned, demographic shifts and cultural shifts. Like, people are just becoming less religious and less white in this country. And so I think it depends, like, how the Republican Party kind of responds to this to see, you know, if this becomes maybe less of a talking point on the right. But we'll see. I mean, it just depends how - like, how someone views 10%. Is that fringe? I don't know.
DAVIS: Can you pull on the thread? I mean, you mentioned that there's an overlap between people who have Christian nationalist views and anti-democratic attitudes. Can you explain that a bit more?
LOPEZ: Yeah. So when I talked to experts, actually this was the part of the survey that they said really worried them. So they found a positive correlation between people who view themselves as Christian nationalists and people who are overtly anti-Black, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-woman - you know, have, like, patriarchal views. And according to the survey, half of Christian nationalism adherents and nearly 4 in 10 sympathizers said they support the idea of an authoritarian leader in order to keep those values in society, despite the fact that the country, as I mentioned, is becoming less white and less Christian. So, you know, and I talked to this guy, his name is Tim Whitaker. And he grew up in these evangelical spaces and has taken a step back as he's gotten older. And he started a group called the New Evangelicals. He told me his life's work is actually to detangle a lot of these anti-democratic and anti-pluralistic impulses from the faith because he says it's a big concern he has.
TIM WHITAKER: Most Christian nationalists, either adherents or sympathizers, either agree or strongly agree with the notion that they should live in a country full of other Christians.
KURTZLEBEN: Ashley, I'm curious if Tim addressed this as well because when you talk about a correlation between Christian nationalist views and anti-democratic views, I'm curious about the direction of the chicken-egg arrow here. There's nothing inherently anti-democratic about Christianity. So how did those two become entangled?
LOPEZ: Well, the country became, as I mentioned, less Christian. So if you believe that this is a Christian nation and it should still look Christian, and its laws should be reflective of that, as the country becomes less Christian and less white, of course, that's going to be the way to keep that status quo - is to kind of ignore that growing other piece of, you know, the demographics in this country. So I think a lot of it is also happening with, you know, political upheaval. Like, all these things always kind of mix together.
DAVIS: What's interesting to me is it's an attitude, according to this data, that is - now reflects a majority view of people who identify with the Republican Party. But it doesn't necessarily reflect the attitudes of the leaders and the elected officials in the Republican Party. But I would say this with an asterisk. There are more members of Congress - you know, people like Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Republican from Georgia, Lauren Boebert, a Republican from Colorado - who not only sort of embrace this brand but proudly embrace it and sort of run as being Christian nationalists. And I do think, you know, they're not reflective of the House Republican Conference as a whole, but they certainly are influential members there.
KURTZLEBEN: Well, and to jump off of what Ashley was just saying about the nation having become less Christian, yes, it's true that a lot of the leaders of the Republican Party may not be explicitly Christian nationalists, or even non-explicitly. But when you hear someone like Donald Trump say make America great again, that may not be an exactly Christian nationalist statement, but in the sense that Christian nationalism is expressing a sort of yearning for a lost America, an America that used to be more Christian. I mean, make America great again can mean any number of things that you want it to mean in your head. So if you are a Christian nationalist and you are someone who wants the nation to be much more Christian than it is now - the way it used to be - then that might be a sort of a slogan that really appeals to you.
DAVIS: All right. Let's take a quick break, and we'll talk more about this in a second.
And we're back. And one thing it's important to emphasize is there are people who identify as Christian in both major political parties in this country. But Christian nationalism seems to be largely confined within the Republican Party. Does the survey sort of explain that at all, Ashley?
LOPEZ: We just don't have any good starting data to figure out, one, how prominent this already is in the Republican Party and what direction it's sort of moving in. I will say, like, everyone I talked to says, like, the Republican Party needs to get pretty serious about this and at least have some sort of strategy to talk about what this part of their base - you know, the beliefs that they hold and what that means for, you know, how they function in a pluralistic democracy, which is what we live in right now. And so I think that's going to be, like, a big chunk of the work ahead of them. And I will say, you know, I called a lot of, like, the consultant and, you know, political strategic class in the Republican Party. And a lot of people just, like, said they didn't have really any thoughts on this, and they didn't really want to talk about it. So I think that's, like, an early sign that, like, this is maybe going to be the beginning of a conversation. But I guess it'll be interesting to see in what direction it moves.
DAVIS: Well, it's a small component of the country, Danielle, but it's a critical component when you talk about Republican politics and, I think, especially Republican presidential politics, where white evangelicals - which, you know, there's a huge overlap here with white evangelicals and people who have Christian nationalist views. And these are people you can't necessarily alienate in an election even if you don't fully agree with their worldview.
KURTZLEBEN: Oh, most definitely. And part of this, I think, is that - once again to come back to that point of religiosity in America being on the decline - as the number and share of Americans who are Christian, who go to church regularly, declines, the still very substantial number of people who are quite religious, who are - especially as we're talking about here - white evangelicals, it stands to reason that insofar as that is tied in with politics, those people are going to become perhaps more strident in their religious and political views and in intertwining them and in demanding a candidate that has those views. And so as long as people - not just Christian nationalists, but conservative Christians as a whole - make up a massive - massive - chunk of the Republican base, then those people and their very strong views, potentially stronger than they used to be, are going to be making the decisions.
DAVIS: This also seems to be, frankly, when I think about it, something that plays to the advantage of former President Donald Trump who's running again in 2024. I mean, he has had sometimes surprisingly significant support within the white evangelical Christian voting bloc. And also, frankly, you know, actually, when you mentioned the overlap between Christian nationalism and antidemocratic sentiment, former President Trump has also embraced some antidemocratic sentiment when it comes to keeping and staying in power.
LOPEZ: Yeah. And I think the more we hear from people like Trump and, as you mentioned, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, I think it just becomes just a little more acceptable to sort of espouse these views. And so I think even if people right now maybe are more in the sympathizer column, I think there is something - you know, social science will tell us that the more people hear about a worldview that might have been a little less palatable to them before, but if people they like and trust and align themselves with kind of talk about the stuff a lot more, I think that will move over into more of an adherent kind of worldview.
KURTZLEBEN: Right. And Trump, once again, is a very, I think, illustrative example of the fact that this is not just about religion once again. His success with Christians points to the fact that there is an entire culture built around the religious right and Christian nationalists, especially, that he appealed to. So to that degree, his beliefs, his knowledge of the Bible, of Jesus, of whatever may not have mattered as much.
DAVIS: Ashley, what did the survey say about the demographics or the type of people that tend to hold this worldview?
LOPEZ: Yeah. So I mean, demographically speaking, it's not just all white evangelicals, which is what you would think, although that is sort of overindexed in this population. People who go to church, regardless of, you know, sort of race - like, there are Hispanic people and some Black Americans who have these beliefs - but what I found most interesting was actually, like, the biggest indicator of whether someone will hold Christian nationalist beliefs and adhere to that ideology is how frequently they go to church. So if you go to church a lot, you are more likely to hold those views, which I think presents some pretty interesting questions about what's actually being said in churches around the country right now.
DAVIS: All right. That's it for us today. We'll be back in your feeds tomorrow.
I'm Susan Davis. I cover politics.
LOPEZ: I'm Ashley Lopez. I also cover politics.
KURTZLEBEN: And I'm Danielle Kurtzleben. I cover politics.
DAVIS: And thanks for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")
DAVIS: Politics, politics, politics.
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