In the race to get Americans vaccinated, two groups are gaining attention: Republicans and white evangelicals. Both are less likely to have been vaccinated before and more likely to refuse vaccination altogether.
But it is the overlap between white Republicans and white evangelicals that is particularly telling, as white evangelical Republicans are among the groups most likely in the United States to refuse vaccination. According to a June poll by the Public Religion Research Institute, of which I am the research director, and the Interfaith Youth Core, white evangelical Republicans were significantly less likely to say they were vaccinated or planned to be vaccinated soon after. as possible (53 percent) than Republicans who were not white evangelicals (62 percent). Additionally, white evangelical Republicans were the most likely of all the major subgroups we polled to say they refused to be vaccinated (26 percent).
That the combination of being Republican and White Evangelical would form a particularly toxic anti-vax stew, more important than party or religion alone, seems obvious to me, but then again, I grew up in rural Texas – I see this combination. of beliefs in motion every day on Facebook, where I connect with many high school and college mates.
According to PRRI’s 2020 religious census, the county where I lived the longest as a child (Leon) is 72% white Christians, 44% of whom are evangelical white, and election data shows 87%. % of the county voted for former President Donald Trump in 2020. Just over a third of the county’s eligible population is fully vaccinated, even though the rates of COVID-19 cases are higher than they are. have never been. At least three people who attended high school with me have died, with tracking statistics showing at least 1 in 9 Leon County residents have been ill – almost as many as in New York City (1 in 8), one of the hardest hit. parts of the country, and well above the rate in Washington, DC (1 in 13), where I live now.
This is important because Leon County is extremely rural, with less than 20,000 inhabitants in total, less than 2,000 of which are in Buffalo, the city where I lived. For reference, my high school only has around 260 students at any given time. If you need intensive care treatment, you must travel – there are currently no hospitals with intensive care in the county.
But what’s also important about Leon County is the role religion has played in residents’ low vaccination rates, even in the face of death from the coronavirus. When my classmates were hospitalized with COVID-19, there were repeated calls for prayers and proclamations that God would bring healing. When they died, these prayer requests became comments that “God called [them] domicile. »
The belief that God controls everything that happens in the world is a fundamental tenet of evangelism – 84% of white evangelicals agreed with this statement in the 2011 PRRI poll, while far fewer non-white Christians and non-evangelicals shared this belief. The same poll also showed that white evangelicals were more likely than any other Christian group to believe that God would punish the nations for the sins of some of his citizens and that natural disasters were a sign from God. Additionally, other research from the Journal of Psychology and Theology has found that some evangelical Christians rationalize illnesses like cancer as God’s will.
This is why I remember friends and acquaintances in Leon County when I think about how religious beliefs influence a person’s attitude towards COVID-19 and vaccination. PRRI’s March survey found that 28% of white evangelical Republicans agreed that “God always rewards those who have faith with good health and will protect them from infection with COVID-19”, compared to 23% of Republicans who were not white evangelicals. And this belief is more closely tied to views on vaccination among white evangelical Republicans – 44% of those who said God would protect them from the virus also said they would refuse to be vaccinated. That number drops to 32% among Republicans who are not white evangelicals.
To complicate matters further, the pandemic also fits neatly into “end times” thinking – the belief that the end of the world and God’s ultimate judgment is coming soon. In fact, nearly two-thirds of white evangelical Republicans (64%) in our March survey agreed that chaos in the country today meant the “end of time” was near. Faced, then, with the conviction that death and the end of the world are an accomplishment of God’s will, it becomes difficult to convince these believers that vaccines are necessary. Sixty-nine percent of white evangelical Republicans who said they refused to be vaccinated agreed the end of time was near.
Additionally, given the number of white evangelicals who identify as Republicans or skinny Republicans – about 4 in 5 according to our June survey – it is nearly impossible to disentangle the religious and political beliefs of evangelicals. Consider how many white evangelical leaders like former Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. have downplayed the severity of the pandemic in line with Trump. Falwell was also not the only evangelical leader to do so. On the contrary, the model of white evangelical resistance to vaccination has reached the point where some white evangelical leaders who might otherwise advocate vaccination are reluctant to do so due to the political climate.
In the same survey, about 2 in 5 white Evangelical Republicans (43%) and Republicans more broadly (41%) said that one of the reasons they had not been vaccinated was that the COVID-19 pandemic had been overdone.
It is perhaps not surprising, then, that most white evangelical Republicans, and Republicans in general, disagree with our question on the golden rule, that “because getting vaccinated against COVID-19 helps protect everyone, it’s a way of living the religious principle of loving my neighbors ”(57% and 58%, respectively). Perhaps this is because for some evangelicals and white Republicans, politics and religion are inseparable – and God’s will, or their interpretation, controls everything.