Myriam Renaud, a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago Divinity School, has published an interesting piece on why so many evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. The big takeaway is that evangelicals in the pew had a different set of priorities than their pastors.
Drawing on a survey from Lifeway Research, Renaud shows that evangelical pastors were primarily concerned about the character of the candidate and his or her view of the Supreme Court. Lay evangelicals voted based on the candidate’s views on the economy and national security.
For many white evangelical voters, then, worries about the Supreme Court and Roe v. Wade were not primary factors. Simply put, the amped-up obsession with the Supreme Court and Roe v. Wade in the media points to an opinion gap between the people in the pews and their clergy.
Why this disconnect? Reporters may not be aware that some white evangelical pastors hold different views than the lay people whom they supposedly represent. Also religious leaders may themselves not be aware that their views differ from those of their congregants. Regardless of the reasons, when Franklin Graham, President of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, told NBC that “This election is about the Supreme Court and the justices that the next president will nominate,” he was not speaking for all white evangelicals. Neither was Richard Land, President of Southern Evangelical Seminary, who, NBC reported, “believes evangelicals were motivated to vote in unprecedented numbers because of Hillary Clinton’s record on abortion.”
Contra Graham and Land, the unprecedented numbers of white evangelicals who voted for Trump were principally motivated by worries about the economy. This may seem odd. Scratch the surface of the U.S. economy and all appears to be well. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data released in late 2016, the number of private sector jobs has grown for 80 consecutive months, 178,000 people were added to payrolls in November, and the unemployment rate dropped to 4.6%. Wage growth, though slower, was still running ahead of inflation, and consumers were expressing the highest levels of confidence in nearly a decade.
Read the entire piece here. I wonder how this piece would change if LifeWay and Pew had a poll in which “not Hillary” was an option.