Ask Professor Burge 24: Hispanic Evangelicals, White Atheists, and White Evangelicals

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 the religious self-identification, age period cohort analysis, Hispanic Evangelicals, and white atheists versus white Evangelicals.  

*Interview conducted October 12, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, as I noted, the obvious trend of an increase in self-identified Nones in surveys, also that’s the less interesting part. That’s the obvious answer to a lot of questions. Another non-obvious idea was differences in the gaps between generations who identify as Nones. Yet, another aspect that is interesting is if you stretch the timelines of generations over time, so you take cross-sections of those slices. So, when you look at these different generations, Gen X, Millennials, what’s the gap there between, 12 years ago and one year ago in terms of self-identification? Some of the days that I was noting: Gen X is 25% 2008, then 36% in 2019; Millennials 33% in 2008, then 43% in 2019. How is this slicing up as well in terms of a differentiation of self-identification in regards to religious identity?

Professor Ryan Burge: So, there’s this thing called age period, cohort analysis. It is like a whole way to think about the way we move through life because we all turn 18, but we all don’t turn 18 at the same time. And that doesn’t mean the same thing to each of us when we turn 18. So, I turn 18 in 2000. That’s a lot different from a kid turning 18 in 2020. So, what we need to do is compare 18 -year-olds from 2000 or 18-year-olds to see what the difference is that those are called birth cohorts. So, what we do is we break people into groups of five years of birth. So, like 1980-1985, 1986-1990. And we tracked those cohorts and how their religiosity changes as they age through the life cycle, and what we find is that people do become more unaffiliated as they age through. But it is not as much as you would think it is. It doesn’t go up dramatically as they age, at least until the last couple of birth cohorts with any increase as they age through. But what we see instead is where they start when they’re 18, keeps going up and up and up when it comes to religious disaffiliation.

So, every birth cohort is like two or three points more None by the birth cohort before them. And that number just keeps going up and up and up and up. And it rises slightly as they age, too. So, what’s happening is people are not disaffiliating as they age as much as they are. Every successive birth cohort is becoming less religiously unaffiliated as the prior birth cohort. And that’s just moving through, moving through, moving through. So, what we’re going to see is, not a lot of new conversions as adults, but you’re seeing the shift. Their kids are going to be more religiously unaffiliated than the next generation kids, the next generation kids, and on and on and on, until, as we just talked about, there will be a plateau where there’s going to just be a level where it hits and stops and stays there for a long time. I don’t know where that number is, but it seems like we’re coming up on it, at some point.

Jacobsen: So, Hispanic Evangelicals in this group. Why are Hispanic Evangelicals so much more Republican than non-Evangelical Hispanics?

Burge: The reality is on social issues, Hispanic Evangelicals are more conservative on social issues than white Evangelicals are. For instance, 45% of Hispanic Evangelicals think abortion should be illegal for any reason. It is only 32% for white Evangelicals and gay marriage are just as likely to oppose gay marriage. Hispanic Evangelical versus white Evangelical, however, what’s interesting about Hispanic Evangelicals is they are more conservative than Hispanics as a whole. But they’re more liberal than white Evangelicals are. They live between two identities, let’s say, of the Evangelical piece and racial piece. Immigration, they’re actually pretty moderate. And, in terms of things like the Dream Act, they’re much more moderate than your white Evangelicals are. So, they’re stuck between two worlds. What identity pulls them to the right and what identity pulls them to the left, they stay in the middle. And they could be an important voting bloc in 2020 because they’re located in some key states. It might matter. States like Ohio, states like Texas, states like Florida, states like Arizona, all these states could matter in 2020 and they could sway the election depending on how they do change their vote dramatically in 2016.

Jacobsen: What is the most conservative cross-section of America, religiously and ethnically? So, for instance, you had white Evangelicals that are conservative, who have many issues. Hispanic Evangelicals are more conservative than them. And even though Evangelicals as a category are conservative, what other variables can one add into a sociological category or set of them to make like the most conservative group in the United States?

Burge: Yes, so, the most conservative group in America, is easily white Evangelicals across the board. They’re not as concerned on social issues. They’re more concerned with things like racial issues or even economic issues, things like taxation, government programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, things like that. But the most liberal group would be atheists. And I think it would be white atheists who have looked at that recently. But I would think that white atheists tend to be even more to the left of all of these, which aren’t large groups we’re talking about. Atheists are only 6% of the population and they’re predominantly white. So, you’re talking about non-white atheists, probably 2% of the population in total. But I would think that I know that atheists are most likely to identify as liberal on a spectrum from liberal to conservative more than any other group. For instance, black Protestants are primarily Democratic. Like 88% of black Protestants vote for Democrats, but they don’t identify as liberals as much. Atheists identify as Democrats, but also identify as liberal. So, it makes them more liberal than your black Protestants because black Protestants are somewhat conservative on things like views of the Bible, abortion, gay marriage, things like this. And while atheists are obviously way farther to the left on those issues. So, I think the two polar opposites are atheists. White atheists on one side and your white Evangelicals on the other side.

Jacobsen: Thank you so much for your time, as always, informative.

Burge: Always a pleasure, Scott.

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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