By Ryan P. Burge, Eastern Illinois University
I was struck by this tweet by Matt Walsh. I’m sure he was just trying to gin up some conversation on social media, and I am by no means a biblical scholar or historian of the Middle East in the First Century, so I won’t address the merits of his or Mayor Pete’s argument. But it speaks to something larger about immigration that lots of people may not fully grasp – white evangelicals (like Matt Walsh – edit: just found out that Walsh is not an evangelical) are incredibly conservative on immigration.
I grabbed the 2018 wave of the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, and took a look at the five questions that they ask about immigration. Then I calculated three things for each question: the share of white evangelicals who are in favor, the share of the entire population that is in favor, and then I found the group that was the second most conservative on each issue (because white evangelicals were always the most conservative). The results are visualized below.
The gap between white evangelicals and the average American is humongous. In fact, on four of the five issue areas the total distance between the two groups is at least twenty percentage points. And, when compared to the next most conservative religious groups, there’s still a decent amount of daylight. For three issues, it’s at least ten percentage points, but it’s never less than five points (on the issue of DACA).
But, that got me thinking about another issue where white evangelicals are often portrayed as being far outside the mainstream of the United States: abortion. So, I did the same type of analysis. I found five good questions about abortion and calculated the average for white evangelicals, the next most conservative group, and then the entire sample.
Here, the story is a little more nuanced. In relative distance between white evangelicals and the United States as a whole, the gap is still large. On the topic of always allowing abortion as a matter of choice, just 24.9% of white evangelicals are in favor compared to 56.2% of all Americans – a total distance of 31.3 points. On two other abortion policy areas the gap is more than 25 points, and it’s at least fifteen points in all five scenarios. Again, white evangelicals’ positions are far away from the average American.
However, they do have some closer cousins in the abortion debate than they do for immigration. In all five scenarios the largest gap with another religious group is just under seven percentage points, but in the other four opinion areas the gap is less than five percentage points. Oftentimes, this next closest group is Mormons. So, while the gap between white evangelicals and the rest of America is still incredibly large on abortion, there are other groups who view the issue of reproductive rights in the same way.
I hate feeling like a broken record, but it’s important to tell a clear and unambiguous, data-driven story about what white evangelicalism has become. This is not a group that is just to the right of center. As I’ve written before, white evangelicals are now three times further away politically from the average white person than they were in 1990. And, I have to believe that a lot of that recent movement has to do with immigration. It’s hard to call evangelicals anything other than extreme, when they are 25-30 points more likely to favor punitive measures toward sanctuary cities and giving a huge budget boost for border security. It’s often easy to think that we are the normal ones, and everyone else is crazy. The data is clear: white evangelicals hold to positions that are very much at odds with the average American and hope to isolate America from the rest of the world. If they are successful, their ability to follow the Great Commission and spread the message of Jesus to all nations is impaired.