President Biden, like President Obama, is most popular among U.S. adults claiming no religious affiliation, according to a Gallup report published April 9.
A strong majority (71%) of “nones” approve “of the way Joe Biden is handling his job as president,” compared to 58% of Catholics and 47% of Protestants.
Only 26% of white Protestants who attend church weekly or almost weekly approve of Biden’s performance.
These numbers closely align with those of President Obama in 2016 while reversing several figures from Gallup’s 2020 survey regarding Donald Trump, when only 27% of “nones” approved of Trump’s performance and 73% of white Protestants who attend church weekly / almost weekly did so.
“Highly religious white Protestants are viewing Biden quite similarly to how they viewed his Democratic predecessor, suggesting again that it is the party of the president that is the operative factor determining approval ratings among religious groups, not his personal beliefs, policy actions or personality,” the report said.
During the last three administrations, frequency of church attendance was an indicator of approval or disapproval of the president’s job performance.
The more frequently a person attended church, the more likely they were to approve of Trump and to disapprove of Obama and Biden.
Similarly, the less often a respondent frequented church, the more likely they were to disapprove of Trump and approve of Obama and Biden.
Overall, Biden’s initial approval rating is four points higher than Obama’s in his final year in office and 12 points above Trump’s during his.
“Religious intensity and religious identity are highly correlated with party identification, and it appears that it is the latter variable that is the more powerful in determining views of a president,” the report noted.
The margin of error is plus-or-minus 4%. The full report is available here.
Good Faith Media reached out to several individuals for their reaction and response to these political trends among religious groups in the U.S. Here are their responses:
“Although the top line of the survey – that ‘nones’ strongly support President Biden – will garner the most attention, I am appalled at another finding: 73% of white Protestants who attend church weekly or almost weekly approved of Donald Trump’s performance as president,” said Randall Balmer, John Phillips Professor in Religion at Dartmouth College and author of multiple books, including Evangelicalism in America.
“I have to wonder which scripture texts they are hearing when they go to church. Clearly, it’s not the passages about welcoming the stranger and treating the foreigner as one of your own. It’s not Matthew 25, where Jesus enjoins his followers to care for ‘the least of these,’” he said.
“As for the injunctions against bearing false witness, as they say in the Bronx, ‘fuhgeddaboudit.’ Their champion, according to independent sources, made over 30,500 false or misleading statements over the course of four years in office,” Balmer noted. “His predecessor, by contrast, the man much reviled by these same white Protestants, made 28 such statements during his eight years as president.”
“That so many white Christians walk lockstep with a party that continues to undermine American democracy through voter suppression laws and conspiracy theories is one of the pressing issues of our time,” said Jennifer Butler, CEO, Faith in Public Life and author of Who Stole My Bible?: Reclaiming Scripture as a Handbook for Resisting Tyranny.
“This report should be a wake-up call to white Christian leaders that the faith formation of those in our pews and our democracy are intertwined and now in jeopardy,” she said. “May we devote ourselves to depoliticizing our faith and getting American democracy on the right track.”
Kristopher Norris, Kreitler Visiting Professor of Ethics at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia, and author of Witnessing Whiteness: Confronting White Supremacy in the American Church, noted that “one takeaway from this report is the enduring impact of the Religious Right over the past four decades. Their work shifted the landscape to where partisanship is a more important part of one’s identity, and a more important factor in one’s public expression, than religious identity.”
“Another is that the category of ‘Protestant’ has really lost most of its significance in these discussions,” he said. “Protestants in America, already denominationally fractured, have become so politically fractured that any poll worth its salt will need to poll at least three separate (but still broad) expressions of Protestantism: self-identifying evangelicals, Black Protestants and the continually shrinking (predominantly white) mainline Protestants.”
Laurie Lattimore-Volkmann, a former reporter and news editor for two state Baptist newspapers and current journalism professor at the College of Charleston, was disheartened, though unsurprised, by the survey.
“Ever since 80% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump – and stuck by him through massive corruption, repeated scandal and constant dishonesty day after day – I have considered the white evangelical bloc a lost cause (though I saw it coming back in the early ’90s when I worked in the Southern Baptist Convention),” she said.
“As a group, white evangelicals have become so entrenched with the Republican Party, and white evangelical leaders so drunk on political power, that it’s hard to imagine the mental gymnastics they have to go through every Sunday morning when ‘love thy neighbor’ and ‘care for the poor, sick, downtrodden’ is the lesson. Though, obviously they’ve been skipping that one,” Lattimore-Volkmann said.
“And what must be highlighted in all of this is the obvious racism that still exists in white evangelical churches,” she said. “At the heart of the current Republican Party’s ideology is a fundamental belief that white people are the favored ones – made in God’s image and all that – and all others are not just unworthy but also a threat to the white man’s power that must be squelched at all costs.”
“The worst part is that I don’t see an end to this unholy marriage between white evangelicals and the GOP.” Lattimore-Volkmann said. “So, until louder voices from the evangelical center emerge to call out this hypocrisy, both democracy and the Christian faith are in trouble.”