Christian nationalism, a belief that the United States was founded as a white, Christian nation and that there is no separation between church and state, is gaining steam on the right.
Prominent Republican politicians have made the themes critical to their message to voters in the run up to the 2022 midterm elections. Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor in Pennsylvania, has argued that America is a Christian nation and that the separation of church and state is a “myth.” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Georgia hard-liner, declared: “We need to be the party of nationalism and I’m a Christian, and I say it proudly, we should be Christian Nationalists.” Amid a backlash, she doubled down and announced she would start selling “Christian Nationalist” shirts. Now Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis seems to be flirting with Christian nationalist rhetoric, as well.
Appeals to Christian nationalism have a long tradition in American history, though they have usually operated on the fringes. But the increasingly mainstream appearance of this belief in GOP circles makes sense if you look at new public opinion surveys.
Most Republicans Say Christian Nationalism Is Unconstitutional — But Still Support It
We started by asking participants if they believed the Constitution would even allow the United States government to declare the U.S. a “Christian Nation.” We found that 70 percent of Americans — including 57 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of Democrats — said that the Constitution would not allow such a declaration. (Indeed, the First Amendment says Congress can neither establish nor prohibit the practice of a religion.)
We followed up by asking: “Would You Favor or Oppose the United States Officially Declaring the United States to be a Christian Nation?” The findings were striking.
Overall, 62 percent of respondents said they opposed such a declaration, including 83 percent of Democrats and 39 percent of Republicans. Fully 61 percent of Republicans supported declaring the United States a Christian nation. In other words, even though over half of Republicans previously said such a move would be unconstitutional, a majority of GOP voters would still support this declaration.
Not surprisingly, much of the support for declaring the U.S. a Christian nation comes from Republicans who identify themselves as Evangelical or born-again Christians: Seventy-eight percent of this group support the move compared to 48 percent of other Republicans. Among Democrats, a slight majority of those identifying themselves as Evangelical or born-again Christians also backed such a declaration (52 percent), compared to just 8 percent of other Democrats.
Race can also play a factor when it comes to sympathizing with Christian nationalism.
Our polling found that white grievance is highly correlated with support for a Christian nation. White respondents who say that members of their race have faced more discrimination than others are most likely to embrace a Christian America. Roughly 59 percent of all Americans who say white people have been discriminated against a lot more in the past five years favor declaring the U.S. a Christian nation, compared to 38 percent of all Americans. White Republicans who said white people have been more discriminated against also favored a Christian nation (65 percent) by a slightly larger percentage than all Republicans (63 percent).
The rising threat to American democracy was made quite clear during the Jan. 6 insurrection, which featured, not incidentally, significant Christian nationalist imagery. Indeed, as our polling shows, a non-trivial number of Americans want to see the U.S. become a Christian nation— even if they acknowledge that the Constitution prohibits such a designation. Prominent Republican politicians have seized on this sentiment and are openly campaigning on a message of Christian nationalism.
Our poll results demonstrate why this message may be resonating, at least among the most ardent, religious and older base of the Republican Party. However, this strategy may be short-sighted. As our findings demonstrate, there is strong opposition to declaring the U.S. a Christian nation among younger Americans, and even younger Republicans. For that reason, the GOP may want to tread carefully or risk alienating rising generations.