Professor Ryan Burge‘s website states: “I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science as well as the Graduate Coordinator at Eastern Illinois University. I teach in a variety of areas, including American institutions, political behavior, and research methods. My research focuses largely on the intersection between religiosity and political behavior (especially in the American context). Previously, I have completed an appointment as a post doctoral research fellow at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute in Carbondale, Illinois. While there I was an adviser on issues of survey methodology and polling, as well as providing data collection and analysis.
I have published over a dozen articles in a number of well regarded peer reviewed journals including Politics & Religion, the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, the Review of Religious Research, the Journal of Religious Leadership, Representation, Politics, Groups, and Identities, the Journal of Communication and Religion, the Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture and the Social Science Computer Review.
In addition, my research has been covered in a variety of media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, NBC, Vox, 538, BuzzFeed News, Al-Jazeera, Christianity Today, Religion News Service, The Daily Mail, Deseret News, World Magazine, Relevant, and C-SPAN. I am the co-founder and frequent contributor to Religion in Public, a forum for scholars of religion and politics to make their work accessible to a more general audience.
Finally, I am a pastor in the American Baptist Church, having served my current church for over thirteen years.”
Here we talk about interracial marriage, religion, vote switching, exit polls, and conspiracy theories.
*Interview conducted on November 23, 2020.*
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Now, on the subject matter of interracial marriage or interethnic marriage, white Evangelicals and Muslims and to some extent Jewish people agree with the statement, ‘I prefer that my closer relatives and my spouses are from the same race.’ Atheists are down at 6%, nothing in particular at 7.5%. So, it’s a pretty big chasm in terms of attaching one’s religious identity to an ethnic identity to some degree.
Professor Ryan Burge: Yes, that’s a good question. So, I think atheists are just more pluralist overall, but I also think it is a matter of scarcity, too. When you consider the fact that 6% of Americans are Atheist, 6% of Americans are Agnostic, they’re a small group anyway, bring race and the picture becomes even smaller. So, let’s say you are a black atheist, or a Hispanic atheist, if you want to marry a spouse from another race, you also probably want your religion to match; your partisanship to match. There’s other data out there that people are becoming less and less willing for their kids to marry someone from a different political party. And we know how well that leads to religion, with partisanship. So, we put all those three things together with people. What happened is they want their family unit to be cohesive politically, so, what you just want to do: You want to marry someone who’s got the same race and the same affiliation to the party. I think race is tied up with partisanship, too. So, we talk about atheists, agnostics. We know they’re much more pluralistic when it comes to things like multiculturalism, multiracialism, also different places are much more urban. There’s a much higher likelihood they could find someone of another race in America.
It is like white Evangelicals. A lot of them are from rural areas or suburban areas, where it is predominantly white. So, it is easier to marry someone who’s white. I do think it is obvious there’s a racial component of this – straight up racism. That’s why you don’t want to fix the racism issues and things like that. But I also think, and this is an important part, this is tied up with age, too, because we know that atheists are younger. Average atheist Americans are only 41-years-old. The average mainline Protestants, 58-years-old. So, when you bring it into the equation, you see that younger generations are much more multiracial, much more open to other races. Older people aren’t. So, it is combining a bunch of stuff together on this question. I think it bears in an interesting way.
Jacobsen: Now, a white Evangelical is twice as likely to switch their vote from Clinton to Trump rather than Trump to Biden. What’s going on, man?
Burge: I like where we are going there right now. Look, the exit polls are still trying to figure out what the heck happened with the white Evangelical vote. I am convinced that religious sorting, religious/political sorting, has hit its absolute peak in the 2020 election. What you’re seeing is, people who have aligned with their political ambitions as much with their religious ambitions as humanly possible now. And what we’re seeing more and more, I think, people don’t want to live lives of incongruence. They want everything in their life to match up to this scheme. To religion, politics, race, even things like suburban, urban, rural, that geography is part of it, too. So, they’re just realigning themselves in a specific way to match up with this consistency. So, politics is another one of those things where we’re seeing sorting. I don’t know if we can get any further sorting. It seems like, there’s not much left to sort now. When you see a group like 80%, 20%, that’s almost as much sorting as you could possibly see in nature. So, I think we’re seeing more and more of that with Trump. Trump is one of those polarizing figures. I can’t imagine a more polarizing figure in American politics in my lifetime than Donald Trump. So, either you love him or you hate him, I think he’s actually accelerated things quite a bit by making it so hard to like him. You can’t just be on the fence about Donald Trump. You love him or hate him. There’s no in-between. I think he accelerated the sorting too.
Jacobsen: So, why don’t you trust exit polls on religions? All races, Trump 68%. The AP vote cast all races, Trump 46%. NBC white only, Trump 66%. However, Trump doing worse in rustbelt states with a ton of Catholics. What’s going on?
Burge: Yes, I think exit poll numbers are going to be right now probably all over the place on the stuff. Exit polls are bad. They can be good because the way they work is they just grab people as they exit the polls and say, “Here you get the short survey talking about who you voted for.” It is a basic demographic survey and then they go either way. The problem is that they pull people from the line in inconsistent ways, in ways that are not truly relevant, because we know that there’s no response bias from certain groups of people who are low income and to not answer because they have to go back to work. We know that women are more social than men. So, when you did get exit polls, you’re already getting a biased sample. So, it has never been that good anyway. But now, over half the vote in 2020 did not exit the poll because they never went to the polls, they voted by mail. So, you’re getting a bad version of a half a sample, which we know that the sample of the exit polls was biased towards Trump because when the mail is available; it was overwhelmingly blue, but the walking vote was overwhelmingly red. So, from that, you can’t get a full sense of what actually happened until we get with the voter verified data, which has come out for months and months and months. Like I have been telling people, I didn’t know the real story of 2020 until probably March or April. So, it is still early.
But the problem is, is your people that the media has report, they haven’t told these stories about religion. So, it is bad. People are using these stories from exit polling and don’t know what the real story is yet. I have not got my hands on the data, yet. So, I don’t trust exit polls. They are bad and they have never been worse.
Jacobsen: For those who like theodicy, who have a deep need for closure in terms of explanations, they are going to look at teleology in the world. They’re going to look at some purpose in the world. It is going to be some battle between good and evil. It is an American general view, but many people’s ideas about phenomena in their view of the world, too, of a cosmic battle between good and evil. This has various effects. So, with regards to QAnon, which I note is this highly American phenomenon, though spreading. As a conspiracy theory, it has twice as much support, roughly, amongst Evangelicals compared to the Nones, in particular Atheists and Agnostics. Why is that true? Why is that particularly acute among them?
Burge: That’s actually interesting, like the theory for that myself. If you talk to people about religion and you, you get to a completely different takes on it. There’s a whole group of people that think that Q is what happens when we don’t have religion, that people go out in search of something to fill that void and things like QAnon are ways to fill that void. Now, there’s another way of thinking, “No, no, no, listen. Q Works amongst religious people because Q is reliant on some pretty magical, fantastical, miraculous thinking, which is what Evangelicals are prone to do, because frankly they do that when it comes to Jesus in the Bible and things like that.” So, those theories seem plausible and, in a lot of ways, is a replacement for religion or is make religious people more susceptible to it.
So, we did a survey. We actually found that Evangelicals are twice, nearly twice as likely to believe a Q as religiously unaffiliated people, but just think about Q and this creates difficulties. Is Q only a phenomenon on the right, not of a non-partisan conspiracy theory? It is definitely a right wing conspiracy theory. Atheists, agnostics are typically much more left leaning and Evangelicals much more right leaning. So, hard to pick apart, how much of that has to do with their political partisanship versus conspiratorial thinking in general? So, that’s something we’re certainly working on with a paper about in the future – how those pieces are apart and figure out what’s politics doing in the work or if it’s religion or lack thereof doing the work. But no one’s done work on QAnon, yet. We wanted to be one of the first. So, that was our effort to be one of the first.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight Publishing and Editor-in-Chief of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal (ISSN 2369-6885). Jacobsen works for science and human rights, especially women’s and children’s rights. He considers the modern scientific and technological world the foundation for the provision of the basics of human life throughout the world and the advancement of human rights as the universal movement among peoples everywhere.
*Associates and resources listing last updated May 31, 2020.*
Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, Centre for Inquiry Canada, Kelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.
Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du Québec, Atheist Freethinkers, Central Ontario Humanist Association, Comox Valley Humanists, Grey Bruce Humanists, Halton-Peel Humanist Community, Hamilton Humanists, Humanist Association of London, Humanist Association of Ottawa, Humanist Association of Toronto, Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba, Ontario Humanist Society, Secular Connextions Seculaire, Secular Humanists in Calgary, Society of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph), Thunder Bay Humanists, Toronto Oasis, Victoria Secular Humanist Association.
Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an Agnostiker, American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Associação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and Agnostics, Atheist Alliance International, Atheist Alliance of America, Atheist Centre, Atheist Foundation of Australia, The Brights Movement, Center for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist Ireland, Camp Quest, Inc., Council for Secular Humanism, De Vrije Gedachte, European Humanist Federation, Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, Foundation Beyond Belief, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist International, Humanist Association of Germany, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist Society of Scotland, Humanists UK, Humanisterna/Humanists Sweden, Internet Infidels, International League of Non-Religious and Atheists, James Randi Educational Foundation, League of Militant Atheists, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, National Secular Society, Rationalist International, Recovering From Religion, Religion News Service, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance, The Clergy Project, The Rational Response Squad, The Satanic Temple, The Sunday Assembly, United Coalition of Reason, Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.
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Image Credit: Ryan Burge.q