The last few years have seen the emergence of one of the largest progressive movements in history – Black Lives Matter – which spotlights America’s continued crisis of white supremacy. Progressive movements historically provoke significant rightwing backlash, and the modern era is no exception. A new poll sponsored by the Marcon Institute for anti-racist studies and social justice provides comprehensive evidence of how white Christian nationalist politics are mainstreamed in contemporary society. Yet the purveyors of hate, who vehemently deny their role in normalizing white supremacist politics, are making it increasingly difficult to expose bigotry.
The Marcon poll contacted a nationally representative sample of 1,021 Americans and asked them a battery of questions to gauge their level of support for white Christian nationalism. In an era marked by record inequality, the poll also provides hints about whether this ideology is fueled by economic insecurity. In a comprehensive examination of white supremacy and public opinion, our poll asked many questions about race in America. The results paint an ugly picture – large numbers of people embrace all sorts of white nationalist-compatible beliefs, even as they insist that they are not racist or affiliated with extremist ideology. We include each of the questions in our white nationalism index immediately below, along with information about how Republicans, Democrats, and the public overall reacted.
1. On confederate politics and statues that valorize the confederacy and slavery, 42 percent of Americans, 69 percent of Republicans, and 24 percent of Democrats agree that “The effort to remove confederate statues from our public parks represents an assault on our nation’s cultural history and heritage.”
2. On romanticizing early European immigrants, 43 percent of Americans, 62 percent of Republicans, and 19 percent of Democrats feel that “a culture established by the country’s early European immigrants is important to the United States’ identity as a nation.”
3. On support for white nationalist identity as a feature of American politics, 27 percent of Americans, 43 percent of Republicans, and 18 percent of Democrats believe that “America must prioritize and preserve its white European heritage from those who would seek to diminish it.”
4. On voluntary residential segregation as an ideal, 24 percent of Americans, 33 percent of Republicans, and 19 percent of Democrats say “I prefer to live in a community with people who are like me, ethnically and culturally speaking, rather than living in one with people who come from diverse ethnicities and cultures.”
5. On the fear that white Americans will lose their majority status, 26 percent of Americans, 42 percent of Republicans, and 18 percent of Democrats believe “it is important that Americans work to ensure that white people do not become a minority in their own country.”
6. On neofascist, xenophobic, and jingoistic notions of American purity, 24 percent of Americans, 41 percent of Republicans, and 16 percent of Democrats feel “America’s strength is being diluted by the flood of people into the country with different ideas, beliefs, cultures, and languages from our own.”
7. On the mainstreaming of neofascist “Great Replacement” theory, 26 percent of Americans, 45 percent of Republicans, and 15 percent of Democrats feel that “the changing demographics of America pose a threat to white Christian Americans and to their culture and values” and that “we should protect the country against this threat.”
8. Also related to Great Replacement theory and the paranoia that there is a shadowy cabal trying to overthrow America’s white majority, 33 percent of Americans, 60 percent of Republicans, and 18 percent of Democrats agree that “the recent change in our national demographic makeup is not a natural change but has been motivated by progressive and liberal leaders actively trying to leverage political power by replacing more conservative white voters.”
The Marcon survey also reveals that a significant minority of Americans share a commitment to Christian nationalist and Islamophobic values. These include the following:
1. On tearing down the separation between church and state, 26 percent of Americans, 44 percent of Republicans, and 18 percent of Democrats say “the federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation.”
2. On government policy, 34 percent of Americans, 51 percent of Republicans, and 26 percent of Democrats believe “the federal government should advocate Christian values.”
3. On suspicion of non-Christian religions, 45 percent of Americans, 64 percent of Republicans, and 34 percent of Democrats hold an unfavorable “impression of the religion called Islam.”
4. On Islamophobic stereotypes, 15 percent of Americans, 23 percent of Republicans, and 12 percent of Democrats feel that, “generally speaking, Muslims in the United States behave in dangerous, anti-American ways,” while 23 percent of Americans, 36 percent of Republicans, and 17 percent of Democrats agree that “war and violence are means of religious expression in the Muslim faith.”
Our findings matter for numerous reasons. First, the Marcon poll demonstrates that rising extremism is not the province of a small number of political actors – like the insurrectionists that stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Instead, we see that large numbers of people indulge in racism and religious fundamentalism in ways that are compatible with white Christian nationalism, even as most Americans do not refer to themselves as white supremacists.
Second, the survey demonstrates that much of the American right, and the public in general, excels at the politics of denialism, claiming not to support extremism, while appropriating values that are white Christian nationalist-compatible. The Marcon survey reveals only a minuscule number of Americans openly identify with fascist and white supremacist politics. Only 4 percent of Americans, 2 percent of Republicans, and 5 percent of Democrats think that it’s “acceptable” to “hold Nazi views.” Similarly, only 10 percent of Americans, 9 percent of Democrats, and 14 percent of Republicans “identify” with the “white nationalist movement in the U.S.” today. And yet, we also find that 22 percent of Americans, 30 percent of Republicans, and 17 percent of Democrats admit to supporting “the ‘alt-right’ movement that was active in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, and that made headlines due to its conflict with counter-protesters over its opposition to removing confederate statues in public parks.” The “alt-right” is notoriously fascist in its politics, identifying with antisemitism, white supremacy, Great Replacement theory, and violence. So to identify with this movement is to identify with fascism and white supremacy.
Outside of the disturbing statistic that roughly a third of the GOP identifies with a fascist political movement, the Marcon poll reveals that about a quarter of Americans (26 percent) and just under half of Republicans (44 percent) formally identify with Christian nationalism, calling on the U.S. to officially declare itself a Christian nation. A slim majority of the GOP (51 percent) and more than a third of Americans (34 percent) operationally embrace the Christian nationalist agenda by calling on U.S. leaders to illegally support Christian values, even as the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from doing so. Similarly, although less than one in ten Americans call themselves white nationalists, close to half to two-thirds of Republicans, and between a quarter to nearly half of Americans (depending on the question asked) identify with values that are white supremacist-compatible in relation to neo-confederate iconography, Great Replacement theory, and identification with white ethno-nationalism.
Finally, Christian white nationalist beliefs matter because of how they influence Americans’ beliefs about various political issues. Our statistical “regression” analysis of the Marcon poll reveals that individuals who express white Christian nationalist-compatible beliefs are significantly more likely to agree with a variety of political opinions, controlling for respondents’ age, education, race, gender, income, class status, political party identification, and ideology. These include:
+ Support for “the wall Trump sought to build between the U.S. and Mexico.”
+ Approval of “Trump’s travel ban, which was applied to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.”
+ Opposition to progressive social movements, via agreement that “Black Lives Matter is embarrassing for the nation because it conveys the idea that America has never been a country of liberty and justice for all.”
+ Opposition to “Critical race theory” as “divisive and harmful” and as something that “should not be taught in American schools because it makes young people think poorly of their country and of white people.”
+ Acknowledgement that one is “likely” to “vote for Donald Trump for president in 2024” if “he wins the Republican primary.”
Where does a class analysis of American society fit into all of this? The Marcon survey also included an array of economic metrics, designed to measure the extent to which people suffer from economic and financial insecurity. The survey asked Americans if they faced any of the following challenges over the last five years:
+ If they defaulted on a student loan
+ If they were foreclosed on their home or evicted from a residence
+ If they were unable to get health care or pay a health care-related bill
+ If they declared bankruptcy
+ If they were laid off from their job
+ If they work a second job or overtime in their main job
+ If they have received welfare benefits, including food stamps, a housing subsidy, Medicaid, or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.
The relationship between economics and white Christian nationalism is complicated. For one, our economic insecurity index of the seven questions above is significantly associated with being more likely to identify with white nationalist and Christian nationalist values. But this finding must be carefully qualified. Only an exceedingly small number of Americans score moderately high or high on the insecurity index, with about 7.5 percent of Americans citing struggles with 3 or 4 of the questions asked, and only 2.6 percent struggling on more than 4 of the economic metrics examined. Only a very small percent of Americans score moderately high on both the Christian nationalism and economic insecurity indexes (1.8 percent) or very high on both indexes (0.6 percent). In total, we estimate that no more than 4 percent of Americans surveyed express moderate to strong financial hardships and fall into the orbit of white Christian nationalism.
Similarly, only 1.1 percent of Americans score moderately high on both the white nationalism and economic insecurity indexes, while only 2.2 percent score high on both indexes, and just 5.1 percent score moderately high to high on both. The vast majority of Americans cannot be classified as suffering moderately or severely from economic insecurity, and exhibiting moderate to high support for white Christian nationalism. And most Americans in our survey who suffer from a high amount of economic insecurity (between 60 to 80 percent) do not score highly on the Christian nationalism or white nationalism indexes.
Notably, our primary class metric reveals that economic affluence is actually associated with being more likely to support white Christian nationalism – which is to say that individuals who self-identify as upper-middle class and upper-class are significantly more likely to indulge in Christian white nationalism than those hailing from lower classes. Only a small number of Americans identifying as “lower-class” or “lower-middle class” – between 11 to 22 percent – exhibit strong support for white Christian nationalism. For Americans identifying as “upper-middle” class, 12 to 26 percent score highly on the Christian and white nationalist indexes respectively, whereas it’s 40 to 53 percent for those identifying as “upper-class.”
How do we make sense of these findings? The simplest way is to conclude that, generally speaking, the “big picture” lesson from the Marcon poll is that rising affluence (measured by self-identified class status) is associated with an increased likelihood of identifying with white Christian nationalism. Recognizing this trend, there are a very small number of Americans who suffer catastrophic economic tragedies and who appear, due to their extreme circumstances, to be more susceptible to embracing racist values and religious fundamentalism.
We believe that the Marcon poll provides a vital guide for understanding the crisis of right-wing extremism in contemporary America. Despite many journalists and intellectuals explaining extremist politics as a function of economics, financial insecurity plays a very small role in stoking right-wing fundamentalism. Rather, tens of millions of Americans, and a majority of Republicans, indulge in white Christian nationalist ideology. We believe that much of this support comes from socialization, impressed upon people by their friends, family, peers, and right-wing political actors in the Republican Party and the media. Importantly, our survey finds that Republican partisanship, conservative ideology, and low education levels are significant predictors of being more likely to score higher on our Christian and white nationalist indexes. Broad economic metrics like class status cut in the opposite direction, with lower and lower-middle class Americans being less likely to identify with white Christian nationalism, and with self-reported income being insignificant as a factor. We find that ideology is far and away the strongest predictor of support for white Christian nationalism, followed by education and partisanship.
The Marcon survey provides guidance and serves as a tool for getting past denialist discourses claiming that because only a tiny fraction of Americans identify as Klanners, Nazis, or white nationalists, the U.S. is not suffering from a white supremacy crisis. In modern America, much of the population prides itself in not “seeing” race, with celebrationsthat the country is moving toward “post-racial” nirvana being longstanding. The vast majority of Americans do not view themselves as white supremacists, even as a third of the public and most Republicans express values that are compatible with white supremacy. The United States needs to change the way that it talks about race if the crisis of white supremacy is to be recognized. One cannot fight a problem they do not recognize exists.
Marcon Institute Poll
11% African American
5% Asian American
2% Native American