The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans and evangelicals think they’re victims and remain unmoved by real discrimination

Supporters of gay rights celebrate after the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution provides same-sex couples the right to marry, outside the Supreme Court in Washington on June 26, 2015. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)
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The Public Religion Research Institute has compiled some of its recent polling to explain Americans’ views on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. In general, Americans of all races, ages, education levels and income groups are becoming more tolerant; the same is not true of Republicans, and evangelical Christians in particular.

For example, “A majority (53%) of Americans oppose allowing businesses that provide wedding services, such as catering, flowers, and wedding cakes, to refuse services to same-sex couples, compared to about four in ten (41%) who say they would support allowing these wedding-based businesses to refuse services to same-sex couples for religious reasons.” However, two-thirds of Republicans and nearly two-thirds of evangelicals think wedding vendors should be allowed to deny service. While 60 percent of women oppose denying service, only a 48 percent plurality of men do.

The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop baker Jack Phillips, who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex couple. (Video: Monica Akhtar, Victoria Walker/The Washington Post)

When it comes to small businesses in general, the divide between evangelicals and everyone else is stark:

A majority (56%) of Americans oppose allowing small business owners in their state to refuse services or goods to gay and lesbian people if doing so violates their religious beliefs, while nearly four in ten (39%) favor religiously based service refusals to gay and lesbian people. Support for such service refusals has increased since earlier this year. In February 2017, two-thirds (64%) opposed allowing small businesses to refuse goods or services to gay and lesbian people, compared to fewer than one-third (32%) who supported such actions. …
White evangelical Protestants are the only major religious group in which a majority supports religiously based service refusals to gay and lesbian people.

One can see that such people might find themselves and their religious beliefs under “siege” (more about white victimology in a moment) while the rest of the population sees them as supporting discrimination.

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On a more positive note, however, “There is continued strong support for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people and non-discrimination laws. More than seven in ten (72%) Americans favor laws that would protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people from discrimination in jobs, public accommodation, and housing.” (Notice the oddity that a significant percentage supports “non-discrimination” in public accommodation but supports the right to refuse service, a contradiction worthy of President Trump.)

As for transgender people serving in the military, the partisan divide reappears, with Democrats “more than twice as likely as Republicans (83% vs. 37%, respectively) to say that transgender people ought to be allowed to serve in the armed forces.” On transgender people using bathrooms, there is a partisan divide as well, but a smaller one, with about half of Republicans wanting laws to require people to use “bathrooms that match their birth sex,” while 60 percent of Democrats oppose such laws. A significant percentage of people say they don’t know or won’t say, which may indicate either receptivity to new information or just plain confusion.

On same-sex marriage, we see a familiar pattern: “Nearly two-thirds (66%) of Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, while fewer than one-third (28%) oppose. … No group has remained more steadfast in their opposition to same-sex marriage than white evangelical Protestants. A majority (54%) of white evangelical Protestants oppose same-sex marriage, although a significant minority (43%) now expresses support for the policy.” Among younger adults, support for same-sex marriage is over 80 percent.

Few people support discrimination against gay people when it comes to adoption; however, more Republicans are willing to refuse gay couples the right to adopt children. “A majority (53%) of Republicans, two-thirds (67%) of independents, and more than eight in ten (81%) Democrats oppose allowing religiously affiliated adoption agencies that receive federal funding to refuse to place children with gay and lesbian couples. More than four in ten (43%) Republicans believe agencies that receive federal funds should be allowed to refuse to place children with gay and lesbian couples.” The percentage of evangelicals who would prevent gay couples from adopting is 63 percent. (Opinion is much more closely divided when it comes to religiously affiliated adoption agencies.)

In sum, evangelicals and Republicans more generally are increasingly out of step with other Americans on issues affecting the LGBT community. Once commanding an overwhelming majority of opinion, these Americans may well feel as though the culture has “declined” or they have “lost something.” It comes as a blow to people used to dictating the norms on these issues to find out they are the odd men and women out.

These figures mesh with another survey shedding light on the phenomenon of white grievance, which Trump ably amplified and used to fuel his campaign. A new Reuters/Ipsos poll done for the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics finds only single-digit support for hate groups (e.g., the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, the alt-right). That poll also found:

39% of respondents strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement that “white people are currently under attack in this country,” while 38% disagreed. Strong disagreement (28%) ranked higher than strong agreement (19%). Among whites, 29% disagreed with this statement, whereas 54% of nonwhites disagreed. Among partisans, 21% of Democrats agreed with the statement to some extent compared to 63% of Republicans. Conversely, 59% of Democrats disagreed (47% strongly) while just 17% of Republicans disagreed. About the same percentage of Democrats and Republicans neither agreed nor disagreed (17% for the former, 18% for the latter).

When it comes to evangelicals, the numbers are even more stark. Forty-nine percent of evangelicals strongly or somewhat agree that whites are under attack. Sixty-three percent of Republicans strongly or somewhat agree that whites are under attack.

Despite the absence of any evidence that whites as a group are disadvantaged in schooling, employment, income, public accommodations, political power or any other area, a very large number of evangelicals, and even more Republicans in general, are convinced it is true. That may also account for high levels of opposition to immigrants among these groups. At the same time, these groups are the least likely to express inclusive attitudes toward the LGBT community. Other polling by PRRI also shows that these two groups are much less likely to believe minorities suffer from discrimination.

That dual sense of both victimization and lack of empathy for others, as well as a lack of acceptance of LGBT people, may explain a good deal of Trump’s appeal to these voters — and his constant compulsion to go back to immigration and hot-button LGBT issues to stir up his base.