When some American reporters described the recent election in India as a victory for the Hindu Nationalist Party, an Indian comic tweeted that Indian reporters should begin referring to the Republican Party as the “Christian Nationalist Party.” The tweet was sarcastic, but nonetheless close to home. As the primary defeat of Virginia Representative Eric Cantor emphasizes, the current incarnation of the Republican Party is increasingly both Christian and nationalistic.
According to a recent survey, about 75 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christian. Although not entirely reflecting this religious diversity, 51 of the 535 members of the 113th Congress identify themselves as other than Christian. Only one is a Republican. Representative Cantor, who is Jewish, has been the only non-Christian Republican in the Congress since 2002. Cantor was defeated on June 10 by primary opponent Dave Brat, who holds a Masters in Divinity degree, credits God for his victory and believes that the Second Amendment secures a God given right. According to a Republican website, Brat’s followers shouted anti-Semitic slurs at Cantor’s family during the raucous Virginia Republican convention in May.
A recent survey identified the ten most and ten least religious states. The results are a proxy for which states are the most and least Christian. Without exception, the religious character of these 20 states matched the results of their votes for President in 2012. A majority of voters in all ten of the most religious states voted for Republican Mitt Romney. A majority of the voters in all ten of the least religious states voted for Democrat Barack Obama.
The increasingly nationalist character of the Republican Party, at least as shown by comments about those in the country illegally, is also reflected in the upset of Congressman Cantor. Claiming that Cantor favored “amnesty” for immigrants in the country illegally, Brat was quoted as saying: “Who’s going to pay for the unintended costs that’s [sic] going to come with amnesty? Who’s going to pay for the education, Medicare, food stamps, Medicaid? Is big business going to pay those bills, or are you? You’re going to pay those bills.” Obviously not all Republicans portray immigrants in the country illegally as all needing a handout, but many do. Sarah Palin effectively labeled Senator Marco Rubio a traitor for his support of immigration reform. As the public increasingly favors some sort of a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally, Republican candidates are increasingly rejecting that idea. Even the National Chairman of the Republican Party has asked Republican candidates to tone down their anti-immigrant rhetoric.
If the Republican Party is increasingly Christian, why it is also increasingly anti-immigrant or at least increasingly anti-illegal immigrant? There is nothing in Christian doctrine that necessarily supports the Republican position on immigration. In fact, Jesus taught his followers that they should consider everyone their neighbor. The reason, like the reason for so many things, is probably tied to education.
A recent study identified the states having the highest and lowest percentages of college graduates. The ten states with the highest percentage of college graduates, with an average median household income of $61,699, all went for Barack Obama in the 2012 election. Of the ten states with the lowest percentage of college graduates, with an average median household income of $42,745, all but Nevada voted for Mitt Romney. Per capita income rankings show the same correlation. Of the ten states with the lowest per capita income in 2012, all but New Mexico voted for Romney.
There is a high level of overlap between those states with the highest and lowest levels of college attainment and those with the highest and lowest levels of religiosity. In addition, studies have shown that Christians, and especially evangelical Christians, have, on average, substantially lower educational attainment and lower average incomes than members of other religions or those with no religion. For example, while nearly half of all Hindu families and a third of all Jewish families in the United States earn more than $100,000 a year, only three percent of Pentecostal families and six percent of Baptist families have incomes that high.
Making generalizations from these comparisons is risky, but the following conclusions seem consistent with the data. Republicans are most popular among those citizens with the least education and the lowest incomes and therefore the most likely to feel threatened by immigration and similar changes in society. Those same citizens are also more likely to be Christians. Ironically, the Republican Party, long considered the party of the rich, seems increasingly to be the party of the poor or at least the working poor. While Republicans continue to advocate for lower taxes and less government spending, because of the correlation between a state’s poverty and its likelihood of voting Republican, eight of the ten states most heavily dependent on federal assistance also voted Republican in the 2012 Presidential election. Who would have thought?
Donald E. Knebel is a partner in Barnes & Thornburg LLP, resident in the Indianapolis, Indiana office. He is a member of the firm’s Intellectual Property Law Department. Mr. Knebel serves as adjunct professor and senior advisor to the Center for Intellectual Property Research at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law. He frequently posts his observations here at Civic Blog. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Barnes & Thornburg LLP or the IU Maurer School of Law.