White Evangelical Christians Stick By Trump Again Exit Polls Show
- 75% voted for Donald Trump, compared with 81% in 2016
- Group makes up almost one in five of US electorate
White evangelical Christians in the US again threw their support behind Donald Trumps bid to retain the presidency in this weeks election, although there was a significant fall compared to 2016.
Exit polls showed that 75% of white evangelicals voted for Trump this year, compared with 81% four years ago. The group, which makes up almost one in five of the US electorate, carries significant weight and was credited with being a major factor in Trumps 2016 victory.
The 6% fall in support for Trump between 2016 and 2020 may have been critical in key battleground states that are deciding the outcome of the election.
But in Georgia, where votes are still being counted in a tight race, exit polls suggested that 85% of white evangelical Christians voted for Trump, and 14% voted for Joe Biden.
There was also a significant switch among Catholic voters away from Trump to Biden, according to exit polls. Just over half of Catholics voted for Biden this week, compared with 45% who voted Democrat in 2016 and 47% voted for Trump this week, compared with 52% in the last election.
Both candidates courted faith groups during the campaign. Biden, a staunch Catholic, made frequent references to his faith and sought to overcome misgivings among Catholic voters over his pro-choice stance.
It Is Not Clear That They Can Be Persuaded To Vote Democrat However
SET IN THE bucolic countryside on the edge of Nashville, Christ Presbyterian Church is a stately building where, in normal times, hundreds of evangelical Christians gather to worship. On a recent Sunday a smaller, socially distanced congregation assembled to hear the preacher speak on the eighth chapter of the gospel of Mark, in which Jesus asks his disciples: Who do people say I am? Such questions of identity are troubling many in the congregation, too. Chatting after the service, Samantha Fisher, a mother of two who works in public relations, sums up the current moment: I dont know any more what it means to be a Christian and an American.
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For every evangelical I meet who supports what happened on January 6th, I meet 5,000 who do not, says Scott Sauls, senior pastor at Christ Presbyterian. Leaders like him are trying to shift the focus of their churches, warning that putting too much faith in politics is not only spiritually misguided, but also self-defeating. The culture wars are the greatest distraction from the mission of the church, he says.
Why The Change Of Heart
When Trump was campaigning in 2016, many Christians conceded that while they didnt approve of his crude personality or his immoral lifestyle, they believed his policies such as his promises to protect religious freedom and his commitment to overturning Roe v. Wade were more in line with their religious beliefs than those of Hillary Clinton.
Were electing a president, not a pastor, was a common refrain.
Evangelical Christians in the U.S. are not a monolithic voting blocthat supports conservative candidates. There has always been a politically progressive contingent among evangelicalism. Jim Wallis, founder of the left-leaning evangelical magazine Sojourners, for example, served as a member of President Obamas Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Community Partnerships. Unsurprisingly, progressive evangelical voters have been critical of the presidents character as well as his policies.
But what appears to have changed of late is that some politically conservative evangelicals those who prioritize abortion restrictions, opposition to same-sex marriage and religious freedom agree less than they did in 2016 that Trump deserves their vote.
In this reading, the Bible does not have a category for a good leader with bad personal character. Nor does it seem to imagine that a nation can remain untainted by the perceived moral failures of its leaders.
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Americans Tend To See Christianity Declining In Influence
While white Christians and especially white evangelical Protestants are feeling good about their political prospects, they are not as positive about the status of Christianity in America today. Fully two-thirds of white evangelicals think Christianitys influence is decreasing in American life. And a similar share of white evangelical Protestants say there is at least some conflict between their own religious beliefs and mainstream American culture, including three-in-ten who say there is a great deal of conflict.
Why do people feel this way? The survey asked respondents who said Christianitys influence is declining a series of follow-up questions to gauge several possible causes for this decline, and the most common reasons cited as major causes are growth in the number of people in the U.S. who are not religious and misconduct by Christian leaders. But among white evangelical Protestants, the most commonly cited reason for Christianitys declining influence is more permissive attitudes about sexual behavior and sexuality in popular culture .
Among U.S. adults overall, about half think that Christianitys influence is declining, and they are about evenly divided on whether this is a permanent change or just temporary .
The Lesser Of Two Evils
In 2016, a considerable number of evangelicals strongly disapproved of Trumps behavior but could not imagine voting for a Democrat. For these voters, the Democratic Party platform and its positions on abortion and LGBTQ rights was sufficient to render Trump the lesser of two evils.
Explaining this position in 2016, Wayne Grudem, a popular evangelical author and seminary professor, conceded in The Christian Post that the candidate was egotistical, bombastic, and brash but that he represented an unusual opportunity to defeat the pro-abortion, pro-gender-confusion, anti-religious liberty, tax-and-spend, big government liberalism that he associated with Hillary Clinton.
More recently, concern over Trumps perceived exploitation of Christianity has been enough to change the minds of some voters. Some theologians have argued that he appropriates Christianity for purposes that are contrary to its teachings. Southern Methodist Universitys D. Stephen Long went as far as to ponder in one article: Should we call Donald Trump antichrist?
So even for Christian voters who rely on a lesser-of-two-evils calculus, its not obvious that Trump deserves their backing. As Piper writes, I find it bewildering that Christians can be so sure that greater damage will be done by bad judges, bad laws and bad policies than is being done by the culture-infecting spread of the gangrene of sinful self-exaltation, and boasting and strife-stirring.
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White Mainline Protestants Are The Only Group With A Significant Shift Away From Trump
Jones told Vox that religious and ethnic identity have been reliable predictors of political partisanship since Ronald Reagans presidency. Since Reagan, the basic religious landscape has been very consistent, he said. White Christian groups evangelicals, mainline Protestants, and Catholics have tended to support the Republican candidate, while black Protestants, Hispanic Catholics, the religiously unaffiliated, and other ethno-religious groups lean Democratic.
However, Jones says, were seeing a shift away from Trump in one religious demographic: white mainline Protestants, among the most centrist voters. Historically progressive, white mainline voters have tended to vote for Republican candidates by a slight majority. Since Trumps inauguration, however, white mainline Protestant support for Trump has dropped by a full 9 points, to 48 percent.
Its unclear, however, how politically significant this shift will be. White mainline churches are emptying at an astonishing rate. In a piece for Vox last year, Lyman Stone argued that this decline, in turn, opened up the metaphorical playing field for adrift voters to be swept up into more extreme political movements, wondering whether without the common moral language of liberal Protestantism to steer these voters away from demagogues on the left or the right, might they not drift into more extreme political positions?
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Despite Bidens claims that he can appeal to white evangelical Protestants, there really arent any signs that Trump is losing support among this group. But Trump may have reason to worry about his level of support among white Catholics. Politicians and the media typically pay less attention to these voters during election season, but white Catholics are especially important to watch this year because theyre a sizable group and theyre concentrated in Rust Belt swing states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Trump won white Catholics handily in 2016, but there are signs that his hold on this group is slipping. Thats doubly worrisome for the president because white Christians are declining as a share of the population overall. And if overall turnout is high and he loses some support from white Catholics without making up the difference among other groups, Trump could be in trouble even if he overwhelmingly wins white evangelicals again.
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Is Exit Polling Data Reliable
The 2020 network exit polling data is conducted by Edison Research for The National Election Pool . Over 100,000 respondents were interviewed at polling locations nationwide or by phone. The data is based on a sample of 15,590.
According to ABCs analysis of the exit polls, the data for the white evangelical self-identification question is based on answers from 3,722 respondents.
According to the polling, Trumps support among white evangelical and born-again Christians one of his key voting blocs dropped from 80% in the 2016 exit poll to 76% in 2020.
Additionally, the network exit poll suggests that white evangelical support for the Democratic candidate Biden increased to 24% from the 16% of white evangelical voters surveyed in the 2016 exit poll who said they voted for then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
The exit polling result comes as there were concerted efforts from progressive Christian grassroots groups and millions of advertising dollars spent by anti-Trump Republican groups to urge faith-based voters not to vote for Trump.
But other available polling data suggests that there may have not been a decline in the percentage of white evangelicals who voted for Trump.
In 2012, exit polls showed 78% of white evangelicals voted for then-Republican nominee Mitt Romney and 21% supported President Barack Obama.
In 2004, exit polls showed the same percentages of white evangelical voters voted for President George Bush and Democratic nominee John Kerry.
How Different Religious Groups View Religions Role In The Presidency Trumps Traits
The vast majority of Americans say it is at least somewhat important to them to have a U.S. president who lives a moral and ethical life , and most also say they want the president to stand up for people with their religious beliefs . Smaller shares want the president to have strong religious beliefs or to share their religious faith although more than half of Christians say these things are at least somewhat important.
Jews and religiously unaffiliated adults want a president who lives a moral and ethical life, but these groups are much less likely than Christians to say it is important that the president has strong religious beliefs or shares theirs.
Does the current president exhibit these attributes? Perceptions of Donald Trump vary widely by political party and religious group. Most Americans do not consider Donald Trump to be a religious person, but white evangelical Protestants stand out on this question: Nearly two-thirds say Trump is very or somewhat religious. There is a similar pattern on a question about how well the phrase morally upstanding describes Trump. Most Americans say it does not describe him well, but a majority of white evangelicals say it is at least a fairly good descriptor.
The chapter also explores Americans perceptions of the impact the Trump administration has had on several religious groups: Catholics, evangelical Christians, Jews, Muslims and people who are not religious.
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Trumps White Evangelical Support Is Still Solid
Earlier this month, Biden announced he had the support of a new group of evangelical leaders, but this doesnt seem to be trickling down to white evangelical voters, who are still firmly in Trumps camp. According to a Pew Research Center poll conducted in late September and early October, 78 percent of white evangelical Protestant voters support Trump, while only 17 percent support Biden, which is right in line with Trumps 2016 support.
White Christians are more supportive of Trump
From a survey of 10,543 registered voters conducted Sept. 30-Oct. 5. Both Trumps and Bidens support numbers include respondents who lean toward that candidate.
One possible reason for this consistent support, even amid all the turmoil of 2020, is that white evangelical Protestants just dont see COVID-19 and Trumps handling of the pandemic as a big issue for their vote. According to PRRI, every major religious group ranked COVID-19 as one of their top three critical issues except for white evangelical Protestants. Instead, abortion was their most critical issue. They also ranked concerns about crime highly, which has been a key part of Trumps campaign message to voters. Jones told me he saw white evangelicals lack of concern about COVID-19 as a sign of their loyalty to Trump.
Day in and day out, theyve supported this president at extraordinarily high levels, so when he says, Were rounding a corner , they believe him, Jones said.
Trump Christian ‘values Voters’ And The Nazi Comparison
Christians love me. That is columnist David Brooks version of a typical-sounding Donald Trump claim. Some Christians, of course, would strongly disagree. But Trump himself made a more reliable claim on 60 Minutes, telling Leslie Stahl, Without the evangelicals, I could not have won this nomination. No serious political observer can disagree. In the early primaries of the southern Bible Belt, evangelicals gave their boost to Trump, rather than to Cruz, Rubio or Bush. Trump never relinquished that momentum. As for November, if Trump happens to win, his margin will certainly be built upon a large percentage of self-identified Christians now planning to give him their votes.
To my knowledge, no Christian leaders are calling Trump a miracle or a gift from God. However, Trump has received the support of Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr, Mike Huckabee, James Dobson, Ralph Reed, and Eric Metaxas, all of them important figures in the evangelical community. Mike Pence, who claims to be a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order, has given up his earlier critique of Trump. After getting the nod for VP, he now praises his running mate as a good man who advocates policies that are wonderful, rather than what he formerly called them, offensive and unconstitutional.
Robert P Ericksen, a retired professor of Holocaust Studies, is the author of Complicity in the Holocaust: Churches and Universities in Nazi Germany and of Theologians under Hitler .
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