Americans of all faiths and viewpoints are gloomy about the economy, anxious about Islam, bothered by immigrants and mistrustful across racial lines, a new survey finds.
The Public Religion Research Institute’s annual American Values Survey, released Tuesday (Nov. 17), documents discontent among all major religious groups, races and political views.
“I am struck by the high level of anxiety and worry on all fronts,” said PRRI CEO Robert Jones, though he underscored that white evangelical Protestants express it most sharply.
For the first time in six years of the survey, Americans are split — 49 percent to 49 percent — on whether “America’s best days are ahead of us or behind us.”
The survey of 2,695 U.S. adults was conducted between Sept. 11 and Oct. 4, weeks before the latest horrific attacks in Paris.
However, public opinion polls measure perceptions, which can be worse than what is actually happening.
The 2015 headlines likely influenced views, said Jones. He cited the January attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris; months of videotaped beheadings of Christians in Libya; waves of Syrian immigrants, chiefly Muslim, fleeing escalating violence at home; the 2016 presidential election campaign; and the #blacklivesmatter movement that has emerged after police shootings of black Americans.
A majority of Americans (56 percent, including majorities in all the major Christian traditions) say the values of Islam are at odds with American values. That’s a significant rise since 2011 when Americans were split, with 47 percent saying the values were incompatible while 48 percent disagreed.
▪ 73 of white evangelical Protestants (up from 59 percent in 2011)
▪ 63 percent of white mainline Protestants (47 percent)
▪ 61 percent of Catholics (41 percent)
Only two groups did not reflect significant change.
▪ 55 percent of black Protestants said values were incompatible (51 percent)
▪ 41 percent of “nones,” people who claim no religious label (42 percent).
The responses of Muslims, Jews and Hindus on that subject are not broken out because their numbers are too small to be statistically compared on individual questions. The overall survey, conducted online and by phone, has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.
The survey also finds significant unease across racial lines.
According to the report, the number of Americans who say that racial tensions are a major concern in their community more than doubled, going from 17 percent in 2012 to 35 percent now. Concern about crime as a major problem has risen from 33 percent to 48 percent in the same period.
One question in particular — regarding police killings of black men — found that whites and blacks operate in parallel universes of perception.
Overall, 53 percent of U.S. adults say the killings of unarmed black men by police are “isolated incidents.”
But this includes 65 percent of whites, while only 15 percent of blacks say the same.
Black Americans overwhelmingly (81 percent) say the killings are part of “a broader pattern of how police treat African-Americans.”
“On this issue, there is no daylight statistically between white evangelicals (72 percent), white mainline Protestants (73 percent) and white Catholics (71 percent),” said Jones.
This divide is glaring despite the mobilization of religious leaders from all sides to address police violence, discrimination and racial inequality, said Jones.
Adding to the gloomy mood, more than 7 in 10 (72 percent) believe that the country is still in a recession, unchanged from 2014 despite rising employment.
Another grim perception, held by 65 percent of Americans: “One of the big problems in this country is that we don’t give everyone an equal chance in life.” That reflects a jump of about 12 percentage points since 2010.
American unease seems to come from all directions. Another example from the survey: Nearly half (48 percent) of Americans say they are “bothered when they come into contact with immigrants who speak little or no English,” compared with 40 percent in 2012.
Dan Cox, research director of PRRI, said the full picture shows a nation “increasingly uncertain” about the future, “while nostalgia for the 1950s is widely felt,” particularly among white evangelical Protestants.