BU researcher: “Almost no atheists voted for Trump”

(Photo by Rissa Shaw)
(Photo by Rissa Shaw)(KWTX)
Published: Sep. 8, 2017 at 12:32 AM CDT
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The American public is becoming more political and less religious, but people who voted for President Donald Trump are “very religious,” according to a new Baylor University study.

Researchers released the findings of the 2017 Baylor Religion Survey Thursday.

A random selection of 1,501 adults from across the United States representing a mixture of ages, races, political, and religious backgrounds participated in the survey that focused on four themes: the religious, political and ideological values of Trump voters, mental health and religion in America today, the geography of religion, and the intersection of technology and religion.

“The 2017 Baylor Religion Survey is the most extensive national survey into American values, beliefs, and behaviors,” said Lori Fogleman, Assistant VP for Media Communications, Baylor University.

The data for the survey, a 48-page questionnaire designed by 15 Baylor sociologists and administered by the Gallup Organization, was gathered between January and April of 2017, several months after Trump took office.

"We had no idea the election would turn out like this and that religion would be such an important feature of it,” said Jerry Park, associate professor of sociology at Baylor University.

Park says the survey is a ‘pulse check’ of the American public when it comes to issues related to religion.

“Most surveys in the United States don’t cover religion in any way, shape, or form, so we wanted to stand out as a different kind that does focus specifically on a topic that some people might consider as ‘taboo’ as politics, that you just don’t talk about religion,” said Park.

Researchers said the survey was answered by very religious, but also very non-religious people, leaving them with some expected results, and some surprises.

One of the surprises being the predictability of identifying a Trump supporter by their religion, even though Trump himself is not known for being religious.

"Every single religious indicator predicts voting for Trump…except two; unless you belong to a black Protestant church, or if you belong to a non-Christian house of worship,” said Paul Froese, Professor of Sociology at Baylor and director of Baylor Religion Surveys.

After looking at how religious values, behaviors and beliefs predicted political support for Trump, they found most people who voted for him said they were “very religious,” were members of white, Evangelical Protestant churches, viewed the U.S. as a Christian nation, believed in an authoritative God who was actively engaged in world affairs, saw Muslims as a threat to America, opposed LGBT rights, and valued gender traditionalism (a feeling that men are better suited for politics and should get higher wages than women, women should take care of the children, and those who did work were deficient mothers).

“Almost no atheists voted for Trump,” said Froese of the respondents.

Another surprise for researchers, was despite the rise of anti-Semitism in the United States, Americans don’t see Jews as a threat, Park said.

“Most Americans do not feel threatened in any way by Jewish people,” he said.

In fact, results of the study led researchers to deduce, Americans were not threatened by religion or even religious minorities in general.

However, there was a pattern defined as fear of “others,” where people perceive groups with opposing beliefs as threats.

Muslims are the most feared religious group by Americans, followed by atheists and conservative Christians, said Park.

“We expected groups considered opposites like atheists and evangelical Christians to fear each other, but what was really unexpected, was it was actually political affiliation that was stronger in its impact of predicting these particular fears,” said Park.

"Whether you are Democrat or Republican said a lot more about your fears towards Muslims, conservative Christians, and atheists, compared to whether you're evangelical Protestant or atheist."

Survey results have led researchers to conclude, while overall people are considering themselves less and less religious, as evidenced by the election, those who identify as strongly religious, aren’t necessarily voting based on their religious beliefs anymore.

"Some of this is built off of…’we may not know whether or not Trump is the same kind of religion as us, but what we do know is he's using rhetoric that says he doesn't like the kinds of groups that we don't like, and for that reason alone, we are willing to side with him,’" said Park.

Researchers say the survey has highlighted a nationwide emergence, strength, and pattern of “Trumpism,” a new form of nationalism merging pro-Christian, anti-Islam, anti-feminist, anti-globist and anti-government attitudes.

When asked the purpose behind the survey, Baylor sociologists said reflection was important for a democracy, and hoped examining our fears, and facing them, would bring greater tolerance to America.

"If, for example, atheists and Muslims and conservative Christians got together during Hurricane Harvey relief… what a difference that could possibly make, where you have people who see one another and fear one another now working together towards solving a particular problem,” said Park.

"Being aware of what our actual fears happen to be and finding out the specific root cause of what's triggering those fears in us, I think, is hopefully an important piece that people will take away from this."

A few other takeaways: almost a third of Americans believe the U.S. is not Christian today but was in the past, nearly half of Americans are sure they’ll go to heaven and that certainty is strongly associated with lack of depression, rural Americans are more likely to believe the ties between religion and government should be stronger, and most people have never used the internet for religious reasons.

An in-depth analysis of the findings titled "American Values, Mental Health and Using Technology in the Age of Trump" was presented at the 2017 Religion Newswriters Association and Foundation annual conference Thursday in Nashville, Tennessee.

This was the fifth wave of the Baylor Religion Survey; previous surveys were released in 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2014.