Christian Nationalists’ identity dilemmas

As the election season heats up, Christian nationalism is again in the headlines and even in movie marquees (with the new film, God and Country ), but researchers are increasingly divided about the strength and even the identity of the diffuse movement. A new study from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), in cooperation with the Brookings Institution, follows the original approach many scholars have developed to study Christian nationalism, assessing the extent of its support by measuring agreement with five statements, such as that “the U.S. government should declare America a Christian nation” and “U.S. laws should be based on Christian values.” Using such criteria, the study finds 3 in 10 Americans expressing some sympathy for Christian nationalism. It then goes on to gauge this support in a state-by-state breakdown. Among those states drawing 45 to 50 percent of supporters to its principles were Mississippi, North Dakota, Alabama, West Virginia, and Louisiana, while the least supportive states were Massachusetts (18 percent), Maryland (19 percent), New York (19 percent), and New Jersey (20 percent). At a webinar on the survey in late February, which RW attended, PRRI director Robert Jones said that the percentage of Christian nationalist sympathizers has changed little since 2022.

Source: Kelly Kanayama / Medium.

The study used the same categories of protagonists and antagonists used in previous studies, with the most supportive respondents being dubbed “Adherents” (representing 10 percent of the country) and “Sympathizers” (20 percent), and those opposing the statements, “Skeptics” (37 percent) and “Rejecters” (30 percent). These patterns were then tracked according to voting preferences, with red states found to be more likely to sympathize with Christian nationalism than blue states. Fifty-five percent of those who voted for Donald Trump in 2020 are said to be Christian nationalists. As for Christian nationalists’ religious makeup, white evangelicals make up 66 percent and Hispanic Protestants 55 percent of this group, with many of them drawn to charismatic and Pentecostal prophetic and prosperity teachings. The report does not elaborate on how its characterization of white Christian nationalism relates to its growing Hispanic expression, except in finding that Latinos were less opposed to immigration. African-Americans showed the highest rate of Christian nationalist support, but the report argues that such support is not tied to voting Republican or for Trump. Contrary to other research, the survey found that Christian nationalists were more likely to be regular church attenders than “cultural evangelicals.”

Discussants in the webinar reporting the survey’s results clearly struck a note of alarm about these findings. The survey’s state-based focus and analysis intends to help people monitor Christian nationalism’s impact on voting outcomes in primary and general elections, according to panelist and political scientist Andrew Whitehead. Christian nationalism, as defined by the study, was portrayed as an authoritarian and violent threat to pluralistic democracy, with Whitehead saying that if they have their way, white Christian nationalists will make non-Christian, non-white, and non-heterosexual Americans into “second class citizens.” Meanwhile, fellow panelist and progressive journalist Katherine Stewart pointed to the recent Alabama court decision against In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and argued that it is “just one more part of the [Christian nationalist] march to go after people’s rights” that started with the pro-life movement.

The PRRI survey did not go much into the long-term trends of Christian nationalism. Looking back past 2022, political scientist Ryan Burge writes in his newsletter Graphs About Religion (Feb. 22) that most survey results “point to the fact that Christian Nationalism is fading in the general population.” This is evident in the declining support for the five statements that measure Christian nationalism (Christian values in government, prayer in public schools, strict separation of church and state, the presence of religious symbols in public spaces, and that the success of the U.S. is part of God’s plan). For instance, in 2007, 55 percent of respondents agreed that the government should advocate Christian values; in 2021, that share had dropped to just 38 percent. Burge adds that there was a 19-point “drop in the share of respondents who say that the government should allow the display of religious symbols in public spaces. In 2007, a bare majority (51 percent) agreed that the government should enforce a strict separation of church and state. That increased to 62 percent in the most recent data.” Burge thinks that the growth of the non-affiliated may be a factor driving down Christian nationalist sentiment. But controlling for the “nones,” the declines in Christian nationalist thinking do not change that much. Agreement with the Christian values statement still drops by 17 points. Thus it is apparent that Christian nationalism has lost its hold on many religious Americans, especially among mainline Protestants, but even evangelicals showed some decline. Their mean score was 15.9 in 2007, but it dropped to 13.8 in 2021.

As might be expected, Democratic support of Christian nationalist sentiments shows a significant downturn, with Democrats in 2021 being half as likely to say that the federal government should advocate Christian values as they were in 2007. Burge found that Republicans were more mixed, showing a 10-point decline in support of Christian values in government, prayer in schools, and the importance of religious symbols in the government. There was even a 21-point increase in the share of Republicans who say that the government should enforce a strict separation of church and state. Yet the share of Republicans who say that the government should declare the U.S. a Christian nation has risen by five points since 2007 (from 40 percent to 45 percent). And the share who say that the success of the United States is part of God’s plan has increased 13 points during this same time period (from 46 percent to 59 percent). Much of the above results are based on the same five questions and categorizations of degrees of support and dissent for Christian nationalism. But Burge is part of a new approach to studying Christian nationalism, with findings from a national survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults reported in the study, Neighborly Faith. Again, it was found that few Americans (five percent) identify with the label. The project created an expanded battery of questions and employed more advanced statistical analyses to measure where Americans fit in with Christian nationalist beliefs and attitudes.

The new approach resulted in 11 percent of respondents being classified as Christian nationalists, with a further 19 percent found to be sympathetic to the worldview—not too far from the PRRI survey results. But taking together the sympathetic with the unsympathetic views, the researchers used Latent Class Analysis to classify Americans into four groups in addition to Adherents and Sympathizers: Christian Spectators, Pluralistic Believers, Zealous Separationists, and Undecideds. “By and large, Americans are broadly committed to civic and religious pluralism and are willing to welcome and work with others across divides to make the nation better,” the report found. For example, 60 percent of participants agree with the statement, “America’s openness to people from all over the world is essential to who we are as a nation.” Ninety-three percent are either “moderately” or “very” willing to work with others of different faiths to improve society.

But the report goes on to note that Christian nationalist Adherents and Sympathizers generally lack the aforementioned commitments so essential to a pluralistic society. “These respondents are more likely than others to dehumanize their political opponents, express the highest preference for a ‘strong leader who does not have to deal with Congress and elections,’ and to exhibit a tendency to dislike many outgroups. Yet Christian nationalist Adherents are more favorable toward groups like Jews, Asian Americans, and African Americans than non-Adherents. The report concludes that “by most of our measures, CN Adherents are equally willing to engage in civic work with those of different faiths as others. There are even a handful of activities (such as gathering to discuss solutions to community issues and raising money or organizing help for victims of natural disasters) where they are actually more willing to do so than the average American.”

(The PRRI report can be downloaded at:; the Neighborly Faith report can be downloaded at: