White evangelical Protestants in the U.S. are outliers when it comes to their views of the global pandemic, according to a Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) report published Dec. 17.
Each of the nine religious groupings surveyed rated the COVID-19 pandemic as one of their top three pressing issues, save for white evangelical Protestants.
Overall, 60% of respondents said the pandemic is the most critical issue facing the nation, and COVID-19 was the top concern for six of the nine religious groups.
Black Protestants (79%) had the highest percentage of respondents who said the pandemic was the most critical issue, followed by Hispanic Catholics (72%), non-Christians (70%), the religiously unaffiliated (66%), other Christian groups (62%), white Catholics (58%) and Hispanic Protestants (54%).
The pandemic did not make the top three for white evangelical Protestant respondents, who said abortion (63%), fairness of presidential elections (62%) and terrorism (57%) were the most critical issues.
Election fairness made the top three for seven of the nine groups (Hispanic Protestants and the religiously unaffiliated did not rank it in the top three), while abortion only ranked in the top three for white evangelical Protestants.
This trend continued when respondents were asked whether they favored or opposed religious exemptions to restrictions on social gatherings during the pandemic.
Overall, 54% of respondents opposed and 44% favored such exemptions, while white evangelical Protestants overwhelmingly favored them with 75% approval. Only white Catholics (59% approval) and respondents from other Christian groups (53%) had a majority favoring these exemptions.
By contrast, the religiously unaffiliated overwhelmingly opposed such exemptions with 75% disapproval, followed by non-Christian respondents (67%) and Hispanic Catholics (63%). The margins for the other religious groups were within a few percentage points of the national average.
White evangelical Protestants again stood out in response to questions about shutdowns and mask mandates. Among all respondents, 76% affirmed that such mitigation efforts are “reasonable attempts to protect people.”
Non-Christian respondents were the most likely to agree (84%), followed by the religiously unaffiliated (81%), white Catholics (79%), white mainline Protestants (76%) and Protestants of color (71%).
Only 59% of white evangelical Protestants agreed such efforts were reasonable, with 39% saying such actions “are unreasonable attempts to control people.”
When asked about mask-wearing, 63% of white evangelical Protestant respondents said they always wear a mask, compared to a range of 77% (white mainline Protestants) up to 85% (non-Christian respondents) among all other religious groups.
“Much of the difference in mask-wearing rates among white evangelical Protestants is due to a large gender gap. Just 55% of white evangelical Protestant men report always wearing a mask, while 41% say they sometimes wear a mask and 3% say they never wear a mask,” the report said. “White evangelical Protestant women (70%) are much more likely to report always wearing a mask, while 26% say they sometimes wear a mask and 5% say they never wear a mask.”
The full report is available here.