Ask Professor Burge 19: White Evangelical Christian Voting Bloc

by | July 4, 2021

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

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, RepresentationPoliticsGroupsand 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 white Evangelical Republicans as a voting bloc.

*Interview conducted October 12, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, some of the more recent research over the last two weeks. You notice that the largest religious voting bloc in the United States are the Evangelical white Republicans or white Evangelical Republicans. Why are they the largest voting bloc? Is it because they are larger demographically or is it because they simply vote more? They take the democratic process for themselves. More importantly, what’s the reason?

Professor Ryan Burge: There is a combination of things. The white Evangelicals are pretty large anyway. They are about 17% of the population. So, they’re already pretty large. But what makes them a large voting bloc is that 75% of them are Republicans. So, you take 17%, you get 75% to 17%. You get 13% of all Americans are white Evangelical Republicans, 13%. Which is the largest religious voting bloc, the next closest is nothing in particular Democrats, which are 9% of the population. But I don’t think you can count on nothing in particular, because they have low levels of education. They are low on the participation scale in terms of going to a board meeting, putting yard signs up, and doing all those things. They can’t bank on this doing a lot. You can bank on Evangelicals. So, there’s actually been data, recently; that says that even though they were becoming a smaller and smaller portion of the population, that they are still turning out at relatively high rates. And will continue to do that until they die off, which is probably in your next 20 years or so, they’re going to be in decline.

So, I talk about this all the time because I get so many people like me. All this talks about white Evangelical Republicans, because they’re the largest voting group in America., there’s no other group that’s the same size. For instance, 6% of Americans are white Catholic Republicans. That’s half the size of white Evangelical Republicans. So, we should talk about white Evangelicals twice as much. And even atheists, even Democratic atheists, are only four and a half percent of the population. So, really, that’s much smaller than your white Evangelical Republicans. So, there’s a reason why I talk about white Evangelicals all the time because they’re large and are super important to American politics. So, that’s the key to understand the Republican Party, too by the way, if that’s their base. Like that’s the biggest chunk of their voters are white Christians, especially white Evangelicals. And they got to play to that base, continue to play to that base as well as they can.

Jacobsen: Now, the only religious group with diversity in friends is Biden supporting white Evangelicals. Why?

Burge: Yes, so, that comes from a poll I didn’t have access to, but Pew Research Center asks an interesting question, which is, “What do you think your friends are? Are they a majority Republican, majority Democrat, mix, or whatever?” It was 81% of Nones have friends who are also for Biden. So, 81% of Nones have friends who are for Biden too. So, basically, you have no political diversity there. 87% of Nones who are going to vote for Trump, also say that their friends are going to vote for Trump too. So, even there, you don’t have diversity. Look at Evangelicals with a lot of diversity, the only religious group that has any diversity are white Evangelicals for Biden. And the reason that is, is because there’s not a lot of white Evangelicals for Biden. So, if you’re going to have friends who are white Evangelicals and you’re for Biden, you’re going to have to have friends who are more Trump and for Biden. If you have white Evangelicals for Trump, you can literally have 50 friends tomorrow that are all believing the same way you do religiously and politically.

So really, the only group that’s out of step with their partisanship are white Evangelicals who vote for Biden because it is so hard to find a white Evangelical that’s for Biden in America. You’re going to find more diversity of opinion in there, which shows you how religion sorts itself out, e.g., your Nones or your Democrats or your Christians or your Republicans. And those people hang out with people who are like them politically and religiously. And you don’t get a lot of diversity anymore in the pews or in friendships or even on social media. I think that’s part of why the polarization in America is so bad, is because people don’t hear the other side, the people they trust much. They only hear the same side echoed over and over and over again. So, I think that’s a bad sign for the future of American politics and religion. Is there an echo chamber for everybody now?

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.

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Image Credit: Ryan Burge.

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