Psychological Reasons Why "Evangelical" and "Republican" Have Become Virtually Synonymous
Dr. Ryan Burge, author of The Nones, a professor of political science, and a pastor in the American Baptist Church, told me, “The overwhelming majority of white evangelicals are Republicans, through and through.” He gives strong evidence from his own research that finds conservative white Christians think like Republicans first and foremost. After analyzing a dataset of over 3,200 individuals who were asked about a wide range of social issues, Burge found “there is essentially no difference between a Republican who is white and born-again and a Republican in general.”
White evangelicals in the United States have a long history of aligning with Republican politics, and this alliance has only grown stronger in recent years. While there are a variety of reasons for this strong alignment, psychological factors explain much of why this is so. Here are just three psychological explanations for this close alignment:
One psychological factor that may contribute to the alliance between white evangelicals and the Republican Party is the sense of shared values and identity. White evangelicals tend to hold traditional values such as a belief in the sanctity of life, the importance of family and community, and the need to protect their way of life. These values are often reflected in the policies of the Republican Party, and as a result, white evangelicals may feel a sense of belonging and shared purpose with the party.
Perhaps the greatest psychological factor that may contribute to the alliance between white evangelicals and the Republican Party, though, is the feeling of being under attack or threatened. White evangelicals have come to believe they are a minority group in the United States, and some feel that their values and way of life are being challenged or threatened by the dominant culture and the growing pluralism of our country. In this context, aligning with the Republican Party is seen as a way to defend and protect their way of life.
A third psychological factor that may be at play is the influence of group dynamics and the desire to conform to social norms. White evangelicals are part of a social network that is characterized by strong ties and close-knit relationships. Within this network, there may be social pressure to conform to certain political beliefs and affiliations. For some white evangelicals, aligning with the Republican Party helps them fit in and be accepted within their social network.
The psychological factors that contribute to the alliance between white evangelicals and the Republican Party are complex and multifaceted. While there may be other practical considerations at play, psychological factors such as a sense of shared values, a feeling of being threatened, and the influence of group dynamics are likely to play a significant role in this alliance.
In How White Evangelicals Think, I dive deeper into the psychology of why conservative white Christians think and act as they do.