Study shows religious citizens hold generally negative views of America

(RNS) —Three-quarters of Americans say the country is heading in the wrong direction, and the majority of people who belong to many religious groups agree with that sentiment, a new report shows. But they don’t all agree on what, exactly, has gone wrong.

The 2022 American Values Survey by Public Religion Research Institute finds that those who define themselves as “religious Americans” hold generally negative views of the state of the country, ranging from 93% of white evangelical Protestants to 59% of Black Protestants.

“Though 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 (white) Christians, view newcomers as a threat to American culture, and believe that society has become too soft and feminine,” the 60-page report states.

“This minority is composed primarily of self-identified Republicans, white evangelical Protestants, and white Americans without a college degree,” according to PRRI President Robert P. Jones, who discussed the survey at Washington’s Brookings Institution, and said the results are striking to him despite his spending years studying U.S. cultural and political patterns.

“I’m still continually struck by how by party, by race, by religion, we are in many ways factions and worlds apart,” Jones said. “We have the two political parties, essentially, defending different histories, living in different realities, and even promoting two essentially incompatible views of America’s future.”

PRRI’s survey addressed questions of race, sexuality, abortion and immigration as well as sentiments about the country’s origins.

About a third (31%) of Americans agree with the statement 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.”

Those surveyed who said they believe God intended America to be a new promised land for European Christians are more than twice as likely as those who disagree to say true American patriots may have to resort to violence (32% vs. 14%).

Half of white evangelical Protestants agree, while smaller percentages of other religious groups do: 37% of white mainline Protestants, 36% of white Catholics, 32% of Hispanic Catholics, 22% of Black Protestants and non-Christian religious Americans and 16% of the religiously unaffiliated.

There is also a split among Americans about whether immigrants to America are a threatening (40%) or a strengthening factor for society (55%), with white Christian subgroups significantly more likely than others in the country to side with the idea that newcomers from other countries are a threat, which is a view that directly contradicts the teachings and commandments of Jesus Christ.

White evangelical Protestants, at 51%, are the only faith group where a majority say immigrants are “invading our country and replacing our cultural and ethnic background.” 

By far among religious groups, white evangelical Protestants (61%) also agree that “society as a whole has become too soft and feminine.” Americans in general are split on this notion, with 42% agreeing and 53% disagreeing.

The survey found that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision is a significant motivator to vote in the midterm elections. That ruling overturned Roe v. Wade, which in 1973 determined that abortion was a constitutional right.

Some 50% of white evangelical Protestants, Black Protestants and white Catholics said they were more likely to vote after the ruling in June, as did 48% of religiously unaffiliated Americans, 47% of non-Christian religious Americans and 45% of white mainline Protestants.

"Opposition to Overturning Roe v. Wade, by Party, Religion, and Demographics" Graphic courtesy of PRRI

A distinct minority across the board — from 35% of white evangelicals to 9% of the religiously unaffiliated — support laws that would make it illegal to cross state lines to obtain an abortion in a state where the procedure is permitted.

People with different religious affiliations varied in what they considered top priorities for midterm voting, but majorities of many faith categories cited “the health of our democracy” as being critical to their vote.

A majority of Americans planning to head to the polls (57%) listed the health of our democracy and increasing costs of housing and other everyday expenses as critical issues for their vote.

The research found disparate views among religious Americans about racial and LGBTQ issues.

"Views on Specific Abortion Policies, by Religious Affiliation" Graphic courtesy of PRRI

Asked if “generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for Black Americans to work their way out of the lower class,” white Christians were significantly less likely to agree, while majorities of Black Protestants, religiously unaffiliated Americans, non-Christian religious Americans and Hispanic Catholics all agreed that slavery and discrimination remain influential forces on modern society.

Most white evangelical Protestants, Black Protestants, other Christians, white Catholics and white mainline Protestants say there are only two genders (female and male), compared with smaller percentages of Hispanic Catholics, religiously unaffiliated Americans and religious non-Christians.

The survey was based on a representative sample of 2,523 adults in all 50 U.S. states and was conducted online from Sept 1-11, 2022. It has an overall margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.

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