Since the election, there has been no shortage of confusion over why expertise, facts, and even reality itself, are rejected by Trump supporters. In fact, these same individuals are far more likely to believe fake news stories on hoax news sites than centrist or even left leaning voters. They are also likely to believe lies even when they have been presented with incontrovertible proof that the information is false.
There has been considerable discussion as to why this situation exists. One contributing factor was the Russian disinformation campaign designed to undermine faith in US institutions, including the media. Part of this effort was designed to make Americans believe that truth is unknowable, and to give up.
Another set of factors are confirmation bias and media bubbles. People seek out, and believe, information that supports their world view. This is reinforced on social media where co-believers and algorithms ensure that you see information that is consistent with your world view, even if that information is completely wrong.
Another related factor is the so-called “death of expertise.” Conservatives are significantly less likely to trust science than liberals. A December 2016 YouGov poll found 71 percent of Trump voters, agree that “Everyday Americans understand what the government should do better than the so-called ‘experts,’ compared with only 46 percent of Clinton voters.
Thus, the cabinet, and senior appointed positions have been filled with people who have little to no experience with the functions they have been put in charge of. While the effects of some of these appointments (e.g. Ben Carson at Housing and Urban Development) may not be apparent for years, others have immediate impact. Dysfunction at the Department of State results in diplomatic incidents whose effects ripple outwards at nearly the speed of light in the age of social media.
Policy and governance based on misinformation, ignorance, or against the advice of experts is unlikely to be successful. Whatever good comes of it is based purely on luck. Indeed, White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon admits that the purpose of these appointments is to render the government agencies they’re in charge of incapable of functioning.
What hasn’t been addressed previously is the question of what the people most likely to believe falsehoods have in common? Who actually believes random conservative idiots with money and a fear of grizzly bear attacks in schools are better at running government agencies than people with experience and education? Who completely rejects science? What sorts of people are completely out of touch with America and the world as it exists today?
A recent Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) survey appears to have answered all of these.
It’s white Evangelical Christians.
A recent Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) survey of 2031 Americans found that White Evangelicals hold views as a group that are not only profoundly out of step with the rest of American culture, they are absurdly out of touch with reality.
The study found that white Evangelicals are now the only remaining major religious group where a majority is in favor of allowing businesses to refuse service to LGBT people.
Where the loss of connection with reality becomes apparent is in the perception of persecution. Fifty-seven percent of white Evangelicals believe there is “a lot” of discrimination against Christians. However, only 46 percent of this same group perceives LGBT people being discriminated against, and only 44 percent see a lot discrimination against Muslims. Similarly, 43 percent see “a lot” of discrimination against white people, but only 27 percent see a similar level of discrimination against black people.
White Evangelicals are heavily insulated from other groups. Seventy percent of Americans have a friend or family member who is gay and 63 percent of Republicans do as well. However, only 53 percent of white Evangelicals do, the lowest of any group surveyed, including people over 65 years old. The PRRI survey also found that 21 percent of Americans have a friend or family member who is transgender, and 11 percent of Republicans. Again, white Evangelicals were the lowest of any group at only 8 percent.
Despite not actually knowing any LGBT people, this demographic feels fully competent to dictate policy to them, including healthcare. This would be akin to letting a group of people who had never seen an airplane, much less been in one or flown it, write the Federal Aviation Administration’s manual for pilots.
In short, white Evangelicals see themselves as the most persecuted group in America by a wide margin, despite not actually knowing any of the people they feel are getting a better deal. This is entirely nonsensical given that the party they elected is effectively control of 68 out of 99 states legislatures, 33 out of 50 state governor’s offices, the Executive Branch, and both Houses of the legislative branch. By nearly every statistical measure, white Evangelicals, and even more so those supporting the administration, are better off financially than the people they feel are getting a better deal (blacks and LGBT people in particular).
Eighty-one percent of white Evangelicals supported Trump. No other group broke as strongly for him, including the reliably Republican Mormon demographic. This demographic is also demonstrably living in a bubble isolated from other Americans. They have a skewed perception of reality, believing that despite their wealth and control of government, Muslims, gays, and blacks are getting better deal in America than they are in part because they don’t actually know any.
As a result, there is strong evidence to suggest that the Venn diagram of people who reject science, expertise, and factual news has a very high degree of overlap with the white Evangelical demographic. As a result of this deliberate ignorance and social isolation, the ability of many branches of the Federal government to function is in jeopardy. Education, clean air, clean water, health care, good diplomatic relations, and civil rights protections for everyone who isn’t white and Christian are all in deep trouble.
White Evangelicals are why America can’t have nice things.