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Are Republicans the Christian Nationalist Party?

By Donald Knebel on June 14, 2014 in Civic Blog

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.

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.

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?


Knebel_Don_ppDonald 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.


  1. Kateiscooking June 19, 2014 Reply

    Don, thank you! Between Sheila Kennedy and you, you’re doing a wonderful job of attempting to educate folks. A couple of comments here… One, I’ve read many times that those on welfare voted overwhelmingly for Obama. Yet, your comments note “federal assistance.” Can you expand on that definition? Two, my husband is a perfect example of the fact that in a couple of generations immigrants are assimilated. All four of his grandparents came over from Ireland. One came illegally through Canada. When they came over they were viewed with the disdain given to our current immigrants. His parents for the most part married other Irish but they certainly considered themselves American first. Now, Connie’s married to a mutt (English, Irish, Scotch, Dutch, German…) His first wife was of Italian origin – another immigrant group that was viewed with disdain. If we’d all follow the Golden Rule, our society would be all that much better for it!

  2. Don Knebel June 19, 2014 Reply

    The “federal assistance” that I talked about goes beyond welfare and includes all payments that a state receives from the federal government, including direct payments (Social Security and Medicare), goverment grants, federal employees and the like. The correlation between how much federal assistance a state receives and its voting is amazingly high. In the 2012 election, all of the 13 states reeeiving the lowest level of federal assistance all voted for Obama, while eight of the ten states receiving the highest level voted for Romney. The study is at http://wallethub.com/edu/states-most-least-dependent-on-the-federal-government/2700/ That correlation matches the ones involving income, education and religion. The less educated are the citizens of a state, the lower are their incomes, the more federal assistance the state, as a whole, receives, and the more likely the state is to have majority of Republican voters.

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