Is It Time To Reconsider 81%?

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Since I published my recent piece on the court evangelicals at The Washington Post, I have been getting a lot of mail.   Yesterday, for example, I heard from three well-known leaders of evangelical institutions/organizations/congregations.  These people are not court evangelicals.  They are part of what I would call the evangelical mainstream–the men and women who are represented best by the National Association of Evangelicals. They are all, to one degree or another, anti-Trump.  None of them voted for Trump.

All three of these leaders were greatly bothered by the popular media claim, based on polling data, that 81% of white evangelical voters pulled the lever for Donald Trump. They all insisted that the 81% number needs to be examined more fully.  These people spend a lot of time traveling throughout the evangelical world and all three of them claimed that they just don’t meet many fellow evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump.

My exchanges with these evangelical leaders reminded me of an e-mail conversation I had the other day with a keen and relatively objective observer of the American religious scene. (I don’t know this person’s religious faith, if she/he has one at all.  My guess is that this person is not an evangelical). This observer was wondering whether or not the 81% has made pundits lazy, preventing them from digging any deeper into the polling data.

What do you think?

14 thoughts on “Is It Time To Reconsider 81%?

  1. As far as I can tell, here in Oklahoma, the 81% number is indeed wrong. It appears to closer to 100%. I was shocked then and remain shocked now that my fellow Baptists viewed Mr. Trump as the candidate that best reflected their values. I’ve become quite disillusioned with the Church – not the faith, per se, but the faith as practised.

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  2. One should keep in mind that the exit polls only tell the percentage of people who voted for Trump out of the people who voted. If evangelicals voted at the same rate as the rest of the country, then evangelicals would break down as follows: 48% Trump, 40% staying home, 10% Clinton, 2% Third Party. So even the 81% figure would only indicate roughly half of evangelicals voting for Trump. That said, I suspect the evangelical leaders you heard from have a distorted view either because they mostly associate with more educated evangelicals, or because Trump voters aren’t going to identify themselves as Trump voters to people who come off as thinking that Trump voters are terrible people.

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    • John: I think you are correct here. It’s all anecdotal, but the backlash to this post has been great. A lot of regular evangelical church-goers are telling me that when they look around in their congregations the 81% number seems to hold-up. I’m not sure that we will ever know the answer to this question. I think it is fair to say that “A LOT” of evangelicals who attend evangelical churches voted for Donald Trump.

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  3. As others have alluded, I think one key question is how pollsters define ‘Evangelical,’ and does that differ from the pool of people your correspondents swim among. In other words, 81% of what?

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    • Absolutely, Dave. I am not sure we will ever know the answer. But as I just wrote in response to John Osborn, there were a lot of folks who pulled the Trump lever. Too many in my opinion. It was telling when all those evangelicals in the Kennedy Center were cheering Trump and Jeffress and chanting USA, USA, USA. When I saw this I kind of felt like that scene in Godfather 2 when Michael Corleone was in a car in the streets of the Havana and saw the Castro soldiers killed by Batista’s men. Later in the movie Michael revealed to Hyman Roth and others (while on a roof of a Havana hotel) that that incident spoke volumes about the fearlessness (even to the point of death) of the Castro soldiers and led him to wonder if the communists would win. Or at the very least he realized that there were a lot more communist sympathizers in Cuba than the Batista regime was willing to acknowledge. 81% might be high, and polling data always needs to be questioned when dealing with evangelicals, but let’s not count out these anecdotal stories.

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  4. I’m *extremely* dubious that the 81% figure is wrong. I have many friends who are from the same “Jesus movement” ’60s/’70s revival through which I became a Christian, and nearly to a woman/man, they voted Trump. Likewise among my own Evangelical relatives. Trump, every one. Those of us who watched this transpire and are horrified as we consult our Scriptures and find nothing to justify it have, for the greater part, abandoned “Evangelical” and the movement that word represents. White nationalism is not Christian. A pussy-grabbing, woman-demeaning billionaire with the moral understanding of a yam is not an option for us. And yes, 81% — actually a number I believe to be on the low side when considering just white Evangelical males (Trump’s sweet spot) — is more than believable.

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  5. Forgive me for not buying the “not really 81%” narrative. Evangelical members of my family *did* vote for Trump, shocking me down to the soles of my feet. Members of the “Jesus movement” through which I became a Christian also – nearly to the last man/woman – voted for Trump. I have seen no sign those numbers are incorrect and find it irritating that others wish they weren’t. For me, the term “Evangelical” is no longer one I wish to associate with. I do believe the Gospels, and the biblical narratives; I also believe in Global Warming and Evolution and voting (more often than not) Democratic. The Dems are faaar from perfect (I live in Chicago and know). But the GOP/Evangelical nexus — Trump has surrounded himself with Evangelicals — is not endurable and is fascist nationalism. Not 81%? Simply not buying it.

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  6. I believe that FitzGerald attributes Evangelicals voting for trump as the result of a steady diet of vituperative anti Democratic Party propaganda from religious right leaders that have died or lost current influence. Evangelicalism has no strong leaders now and the rank and file are going their own way. They couldn’t vote for Hillary because she would put a pro choice justices on the Supreme Court–and besides she has had dozens of people killed who might have exposed her illegal deals.

    I think the 81% is not far off when you are around regular people in Evangelical churches. At the same time, a good number of the Evangelical elite were–and are–scandalized by trump. You have to wonder why 40% of Republicans say that DJT, Jr. did not meet with a Russian lawyer.

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  7. For some time I have questioned the statistic that 81% of evangelicals voted for President Trump. My assessment is that the word “evangelical” is the new “Christian” – a label given to someone who believes in a cultural Christ.

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  8. Right – Evangelical Christians didn’t really vote for Trump. Just like all the Germans right after WW2 who claimed never to have supported or voted for Hitler.

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  9. It did seem as if there was no real documentation of what 81% was a part of or what was the number of voters who protested, and did not cast a presidential vote at all out of disgust. There are also those evangelicals who did vote for Trump who are now enduring a serious buyers regret.

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