What’s the Mystery? White Evangelicals Have More Racial Resentment

By Paul A. Djupe

I put up a post yesterday that used Voter Study Group panel data to show that becoming born-again/evangelical from one time to another left them behind the evolving societal standards on race. As usual when there is a post about evangelicals and _____ that does not shine a positive light on evangelicalism, Tobin Grant starts to tweet. He thinks the results are likely misinterpreted. You can go read the thread yourself, if you like, but here’s his punchline: “He [that’s me] is focused on whether becoming born-again makes you more racist than if you didn’t. He is not testing whether being born-again drives racial resentment.”

I thought this was the most obvious point and was far less interesting than the question about change. I thought the pressing concern was whether people changed relative to the people who were left behind and didn’t convert. I found consistent evidence that converts had statistically distinguishable movement compared to those who were not born-again/evangelical at time one and didn’t convert. It’s still important to examine the gaps, though.

So, let’s take a peak at what the racial resentment looks like for white (Protestant) evangelicals compared to everyone else. I used these four measures of racial resentment in the VSG data asked in the 2011 baseline survey as well as the 2016 wave. The 2016 results are weighted using the supplied weights (weight_2016); there was no weight supplied for the baseline. The effect of adding the weight was to increase the racial conservatism effect of white evangelical identity.

  • Over the past few years, Blacks have gotten less than they deserve. (disagree is more resentful)
  • Irish, Italian, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors. (agree is more resentful)
  • It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites. (agree is more resentful)
  • Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class. (disagree is more resentful)

In each case, shown in Figure 1, white evangelicals are more racially conservative than the rest of Americans (0 on the x axis refers to the rest of the sample). They disagree more that blacks have gotten less than what they deserve, agree more that blacks should overcome prejudice without special favors, express more agreement that blacks should just try harder, and disagree more that a legacy of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to succeed. The results suggest that the gap grew between 2011 and 2016 – white evangelicals were comparatively more racially conservative in 2016. From yesterday’s post, we can figure out that that is because everyone else was growing less racially resentful in this time span. So, if evangelicals just stuck to their guns, they would look more conservative.

Figure 1 – The Effect of White Evangelical ID (Among Protestants Only) Compared to Everyone Else in the Sample, 2011 and 2016 Models (controls for gender and education included)

Some might argue that it’s unfair to compare them to everyone else. OK, how about just whites then? Shown below, the gaps shrink a bit, but not much. It depends on which question we’re looking at, but the gap drops by just over 0.1. The same conclusions hold.

Figure 2 – The Same Analysis as Figure 1, but just among Whites.

White evangelicals are more racially resentful. They are more racially resentful than the rest of the population as well as the rest of the white population. Yesterday I showed evidence that converts opened up a gap with non-converts. Today, I’ve shown that the baselines for 2011 and 2016 were as everyone expects – white evangelicals have more racial resentment.

Paul A. Djupe, Denison University Political Science, is an affiliated scholar with PRRI, the series editor of Religious Engagement in Democratic Politics (Temple), and co-creator of religioninpublic.blog (see his list of posts). Further information about his work can be found at his website and on Twitter.

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