WASHINGTON (ABP) — Although American evangelicals overwhelmingly view themselves as part of mainstream America and believe they hold significant political influence, they nonetheless view themselves as a besieged minority, a new study has found.
And the study found evangelicals now mirror the rest of the country demographically, ranking much closer to nationwide socio-economic norms than their brethren 30 years ago. “Looking at demographics, evangelicals are just not that different from the rest of America,” said Anna Greenberg, vice president of the polling firm that conducted the study, in an April 13 press conference.
Those findings came from a landmark survey conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and released April 13. It was commissioned by U.S. News and World Report magazine and the PBS television show “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.”.
Among other results, the survey found that American evangelicals have somewhat schizophrenic views of their role in the wider culture. For instance, although 75 percent of all evangelicals — and 78 percent of white evangelicals — agreed with the statement, “Evangelical Christians are part of mainstream American society,” an identical percentage agreed that evangelicals “have to fight for their voices to be heard by the mainstream.”
Meanwhile, among all respondents (evangelical and non-evangelical alike), only 55 percent believed that evangelicals had to fight for their voices to be heard in society, while 65 percent of all respondents believed evangelicals are part of the American mainstream.
A similar division between evangelicals' views of themselves and their perception by the broader society was evident in the responses to a question about whether “the mass media is hostile” to the respondent's moral and religious values. While only 52 percent of all those surveyed agreed with that statement, 72 percent of evangelical respondents did. In addition, 48 percent of evangelicals believed that they were “looked down upon by most Americans,” while only 35 percent of non-evangelicals agreed with that assertion.
However, the evangelical respondents did acknowledge their political influence — in a culture where the president as well as the leadership of the majority parties in both houses of Congress are evangelicals. Sixty-seven percent of all evangelicals in the survey agreed that they had either “a lot of influence” or “some influence” on the Bush administration. Only 9 percent of evangelicals believed they had “no influence at all” in the current White House.
Despite their starkly different views from other Americans on their own place in society, evangelicals now lag only slightly behind the rest of America in education and income levels. Today they are also only slightly more likely to live in the South and marginally more prone to live in rural areas than the average American.
John Green, a University of Akron (Ohio) professor who specializes in the study of evangelicals and politics, said the survey results reflect the internal self-perception conflicts of a population that has seen a monumental shift in its social standing since World War II. “This is a group of people who fall, in many ways, at the center of American society — but are, in many ways, still thinking that they are a people apart,” he told reporters.
The survey of 1,610 respondents had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. It was conducted in late March and early April.
Both “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly” and U.S. News & World Report are using the survey's results as the basis for major news packages. The study's complete results are available at www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics, along with program times for local markets.