We know atheists are more liberal than the general public. We know white evangelicals are more conservative.
So here’s a question: Which side is the American public in general closer to on a variety of hot-button issues? Is it fair to call white evangelicals “extremists”… or are atheists actually further from the mainstream and therefore technically more deserving of that label?
Enter the ever-prolific Ryan P. Burge of Eastern Illinois University, who crunched numbers from the 2018 Cooperative Congressional Study to see if there was a pattern.
He picked 16 separate issues, including abortion, taxes, health care, guns, etc., so he could show where all the relevant groups stand on them. Because of the size of the study, the margin of error is fairly small, so these numbers are about as accurate as you’ll ever see.
For example, when it comes to repealing Obamacare, about 20% of atheists believe we should do it. So do about 20% of Democrats. But about 70% of white evangelicals say the same thing… compared to 75% of Republicans. You find similar results up and down the line.
As you can see, on almost every issue, white evangelical Protestants are to the left of the average Republican. That means that for all the grief that white evangelicals get for being conservative, they are not as conservative as the Republican sample (not counting white evangelicals).
It’s a different story for atheists. Depending on the issue, we may be slightly left or slightly right of Democrats as a whole. Interesting.
Then Burge tried something else. He removed atheists/agnostics and white evangelicals from the survey and calculated where all other Americans stood on these issues. Then he wondered which of the two “religious” groups was closer to the average.
In other words, which side better represents America?
On some of the issues “America” is roughly between the two sides. But when there’s a lean in one direction, it’s usually on the side of atheists. Meaning that the views held by atheists and agnostics are a closer representation of the country than white evangelicals. But Burge is quick to note that both groups are still pretty far away from the rest of the country.
It’s fair to conclude that atheists/agnostics do represent the rest of America better than white evangelicals through the lens of these sixteen issues. But, the gaps are so big that neither group represents the public well. On abortion, the gap is 62 points. On moving the capital of Israel, it’s fifty-five points. Even in areas that are not specifically religious, like repealing the ACA, it’s nearly fifty points. The gap on ending the visa lottery is forty-two points. There is no compromise to be found here.
We really do live in different Americas. It’s hard to find common ground when your values are so far apart. But given how white evangelicals have an inordinate amount of political power, it should be a wakeup call to Secular Americans that we have an obligation to move the conversation in our direction by being politically active. Even if we can’t get the country fully on board with our views, we’re all better off moving to the left of where white evangelicals want to take us.