Conservative Evangelical “World View” In Sharp Relief

Lots of progressive bloggers are having lots of fun with some of the crosstabs from PPI’s latest poll of likely Republican primary voters in Alabama and Mississippi–particularly the numbers showing a powerful reluctance to accept that the president is a Christian, and an embarrassingly large minority still favoring miscegenation laws against interracial marriage.

But I’m interested in a deeper finding: the fairly large divisions between self-identified “evangelical Christians” and non-evangelicals on these questions. Evangelicals are so dominant in these two states that it’s easy to miss this: there are not, for example, especially large divisions in terms of candidate preferences (Romney is doing relatively well among evangelicals, which is why he is competitive in both states and might well win one or both).

But: asked about the president’s religion, only 9% of evangelicals in both states agree Obama is a Christian (as opposed to 26% of non-evangelicals in Alabama and 19% in Mississippi). An actual majority (50% in AL, 54% in MS) of evangelicals think Obama is a Muslim, and the rest say they don’t know. It’s worth noting that the “don’t knows” probably include quite a few people who don’t think Obama is a Muslim, but also, like Rick Santorum, don’t much believe mainline Protestants are actually Christians.

Interestingly enough, self-ID’d evangelicals in these two states are also much more likely than others to favor legal bans on interracial marriage: nearly one-fourth in Alabama, and one-third in Mississippi.

Political observers who don’t pay much attention to religion or who lump all believers together probably can’t quite comprehend the extent to which white conservative evangelicals in this country have come to conflate their faith with conservative cultural values, creating a highly self-conscious “world view” that leads them to identify the Word of God with the mores of the (relatively recent) past. I used to have some country relatives who refused to acknowledge daylight savings time (as I wish I could have yesterday morning!) on grounds that standard time was God’s time! This as much as simple racism may well explain why a lot of these folks think it was a mistake to repeal miscegenation laws and elect as president a black man with the foreign-sounding name.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.