For nearly a year, evangelicals, including many high profile leaders, have been debating who to support in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Many have even joined the the #NeverTrump moment. But that may be changing.
A new poll released by Pew Research Center shows four-fifths of white evangelicals say they have decided to vote for the presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump in the general election. According to Pew, 78% of white evangelicals now support the candidate. Just 17% support Hilary Clinton, the presumptive Democrat nominee, while 5% are undecided.
Support for Trump among white evangelicals is even higher than as it was for Republican Mitt Romney (71%) in 2012.
The New York Times quoted J. Tobin Grant, a professor of political science at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, on the difference. “Trump is not a true believer in any sense, both religiously and on the issues, but he’s speaking to them,” said Tobin. “He’s actively courting them, and that’s what the activists want. They want to have a seat at the table, and they felt they didn’t have that with Romney.”
White evangelical Protestant voters make up one-fifth of the the nation’s registered voters, with one-third stating they are or at least lean Republican. Evangelicals are rivaled by religious “nones,” voters who have no religious preference or are atheist, who also make up one-fifth of registered voters. More than a quarter of the nones say they are or lean Democrat.
Writing for Religion News Service, Mark Silk touted the “big news” from the Pew poll as “the disappearance of the God gap.” In 2012, “respondents who said they attended worship at least once a week preferred Romney to Obama by 15 points, 55% to 40%. This year, the margin is just four points: 49% for Trump to 45% for Clinton.”
Silk also noted, “In 2012, less frequent attending white evangelicals preferred Romney to Obama by 29 points (62-33). This year the margin for the Republican has doubled to 57 points (76-19) — almost the same as the margin among frequent attending white evangelicals.”
Pew found voters in general are not pleased with their choices for president – “42% of voters said it would be difficult to choose between Trump and Clinton because ‘neither one’ would make a good president.”
Black Protestant voters overwhelmingly say they support Clinton – 89% to 8% for Trump. Just four percent say they are undecided. Hispanic Catholics support Clinton (77%) over Trump (16%).
The survey also measured voter motivation. Pew discovered “the desire to defeat Clinton was the prime reason evangelicals supported Trump. Of the 78% of white evangelicals who said they would vote for Trump, 45% said their decision was ‘mainly a vote against Clinton,’ while only 30% said it was ‘mainly a vote for Trump.’”
In addition, the survey found nearly half (46%) of white evangelical voters believe it it is now more difficult to be a Christian in the United States. This compares to just 18% of Catholics who believe it is now more difficult to be a Catholic in today’s society.
The survey also comes on the heels of Trump’s meeting last month with nearly 1,000 evangelicals, including many Southern Baptists. At least eight Southern Baptists now serve on Trump’s evangelical advisory panel.
The Republican National Convention takes place next week, July 18- 21, in Cleveland, Ohio. The Democrat National Convention follows July 25–28 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
– Lisa Sergent