Yesterday I was on the phone with a reporter talking about Donald Trump’s appeal to evangelicals. I told him that I was surprised so many evangelicals backed Trump in the GOP primaries since there were so many viable evangelical-friendly candidates in the race such as Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, and Ben Carson
But I am not surprised that evangelicals are backing Trump in the general election. A vote for Trump is a vote against Hillary Clinton. The dislike of Hillary runs deep in evangelical circles, especially among evangelicals who remember the 1990s. Recently I was talking with a 70-something evangelical who said she could never vote for Clinton “because of her (Clinton’s) background.” When I pushed her, this evangelical woman referenced three or four events from the 1990s, most of them centered around the the Monica Lewinsky affair. Now I know that this woman also disagrees with the former Secretary of State’s views on abortion and gay marriage, but it seemed that Clinton’s “background” is what bothered her more than anything else.
For most, however, the social and moral issues are predominant. This election cycle the big issues are abortion, gay marriage, LGBT rights, and the religious freedom to oppose these things. The future of these issues in America rest on Supreme Court decisions. Trump’s decision to release the names of judges he would appoint to the Supreme Court is the best thing that he has done in his POTUS election campaign. This was huge! By promising to appoint conservative justices Trump calmed the fears of evangelicals and solidified himself among many evangelicals as the lesser of two evils.
Trump’s evangelical strategy seems to be working. According to this Pew Survey, Trump is gaining serious ground in the evangelical community. He even has more evangelical support among evangelicals than Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP candidate for POTUS, had four years ago at this point in the election season.
Here is a taste of the report:
Evangelical voters are rallying strongly in favor of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Indeed, the latest Pew Research Center survey finds that despite the professed wariness toward Trump among many high-profile evangelical Christian leaders, evangelicals as a whole are, if anything, even more strongly supportive of Trump than they were of Mitt Romney at a similar point in the 2012 campaign. At that time, nearly three-quarters of white evangelical Protestant registered voters said they planned to vote for Romney, including one-quarter who “strongly” supported him.1 Now, fully 78% of white evangelical voters say they would vote for Trump if the election were held today, including about a third who “strongly” back his campaign.
While many evangelical voters say they “strongly” support Trump over Clinton, this does not necessarily mean Trump is their ideal choice for president or that they are convinced he shares their religious convictions. In the current survey, 42% of white evangelicals say it will be difficult to choose between Trump and Clinton because neither one would make a good president. And a January Pew Research Center poll found that 44% of white evangelical Republicans view Trump as “not too” or “not at all” religious.
But even if many evangelicals do not think he shares their religious commitment, most dothink that Trump understands the needs of people like them. Indeed, fully six-in-ten white evangelical voters (61%) say they think Trump understands their needs “very” or “fairly” well, while just 24% say this about Clinton.
Evangelicals also overwhelmingly prefer Trump to Clinton when it comes to handling a wide variety of specific issues, from gun policy to the economy, terrorism, immigration and abortion.
As my friend and fellow historian John Haas recently noted on Facebook, if Trump picks Indiana governor Mike Pence, an evangelical, as his running-mate he could shore-up even more of the evangelical vote.