Members Only | July 7, 2021 | Reading Time: 5 minutes
Study finds white evangelical support for Donald Trump wasn’t about partisanship. It was about animus toward minorities
Chrissy Stroop says the finding probably won't break the trap of "both sides," though.
In the wake of the Pew Research Center’s findings that 84 percent of the white evangelical Protestant vote went to former President Donald Trump in 2020, it is more important than ever for the American public to face the uncomfortable truth about the authoritarian Christian right’s deleterious impact on society, culture and politics.
Some of us have been pushing for this conversation for years, with various iterations of relevant data and scholarship helping to elucidate key points. During the 2016 primaries, a few political scientists drew attention to a link between authoritarian personality traits and support for Trump. For Religion Dispatches, I wrote at the time, “if ‘a desire for order and a fear of outsiders’ predicts Trump support, the question of why white evangelicals are backing a trash-talking billionaire can be easily answered.”
No one should have been surprised by evangelical Trump support, and that the American public has done such a poor job of grappling with the issue is a sad commentary on civil society, writes Editorial Board member Chrissy Stroop.
Although the mainstream press has only haltingly begun to take such analysis seriously, my conclusion, which was intuitive to me as someone who grew up in white evangelical subculture and attended Christian schools, aged well over the next few years, as the rubric of “Christian nationalism” became an important part of the relevant discourse. No one should have been surprised by evangelical Trump support, and that the American public has done such a poor job of grappling with the issue is a sad commentary on the fundamental weakness of American civil society.
One of the key roots of that weakness is the tendency of TV news and the legacy press to present “both sides” of any issue that can be framed as partisan. The right has long since learned to exploit this tendency by using manufactured “controversies”—where there is no serious controversy among experts in the relevant fields—to shift the Overton window in, for example, areas such as climate change. While a strong argument that American polarization is “asymmetric,” and driven primarily from the right, has been available, this understanding has done little to improve the situation.
Could the national discussion of right-wing, white Christians as a distinct authoritarian “faction” that transcends party help us to escape from the trap of bothsidesism? Lilliana Mason, associate professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, seemed to suggest as much in a recent Twitter thread exploring some of the implications of a new paper she and colleagues Julie Wronski and John V. Kane recently published in American Political Science Review.