Why Evangelicals Support Donald Trump By Kaitlyn Dombrowski
Religion has played a major role in shaping political leadership, the presidency, and presidential elections throughout U.S. history. Because of this, presidential candidates have long recognized the importance of emphasizing religious beliefs in order to elicit support from major religious groups.
Since the 1970’s, evangelical Protestants have positioned themselves as one of the most impactful religious voting blocs, even with recent declines in religious affiliation and salience.
Donald Trump was able to garner the vast majority of evangelical support in the 2016 election despite being among the least religious presidential candidates in modern history. Faith mattered for evangelicals in 2016, but partisanship mattered more in determining who they would support.
Throughout the 2016 election cycle and into his presidency, Trump’s opponents were not shy to criticize and question his character, behavior, and tone. Some evangelical voters and leaders also expressed concerns that Trump’s character and behavior did not align with the conservative views of evangelicals.
Still, Trump was able to maintain the evangelical/Republican alliance, receiving approximately 80 percent of the evangelical vote, more than Mitt Romney in 2012, John McCain in 2008, and George Bush in 2004 with 78 percent.
This support has persisted even with public scrutiny of the Trump presidency, including Trump’s alleged extramarital affair with a pornographic actress and legal controversy regarding a payment for silence (related analysis here & here).
Evangelical support of Trump was a result of strong evangelical ties to the Republican Party because of the Party’s commitment to advocating for conservative values, both religiously and politically.
Additionally, evangelical support for Trump was not necessarily because they agreed with his behavior, rhetoric or even policy proposals; it was primarily due to how being an evangelical aligns with maintaining conservative political beliefs and Republican voting patterns, as well as the opposition this perpetuates toward left-wing parties.
While the majority of evangelical voters tend to support Republican candidates, the “evangelical Left,” which primarily consists of African Americans, Latinos and “freestyle evangelicals,” is often overlooked. Though this group maintains the high religiosity and salience that characterizes evangelicals, race and ethnicity play a major role in shaping political attitudes within the voting bloc that inform their support for the Democratic Party. These discrepancies were evident in the 2016 election, as Donald Trump received only 8 percent of the African American vote and 28 percent of the Latino vote.
Evangelical support of Trump in the 2016 election, and beyond, exemplifies that evangelicals continue to be an influential voting bloc whose high religious salience informs support for the Republican Party, regardless of a candidate’s religiosity or lack thereof.
Kaitlyn Dombrowski is a government student at Utica College .