Numbers, Schnumbers, Why Evangelicals Should Worry About Trump’s Popularity

What would journalists and pundits do without Donald Trump? Indeed, one wonders how they ever got through our nation’s inexplicably long campaign season without him!

While the Donald has inspired countless columns about myriad topics, much recent commentary has focused on the extent to which he has (un)successfully courted white evangelicals, a crucial voting bloc in the GOP.

For those who think Trump has won over the evangelical vote, the driving question behind their writing has been how an “immodest, arrogant, foul-mouthed, money-obsessed, thrice-married, and until recently, pro-choice” candidate ever gained such traction among religious conservatives. On these terms, evangelicals and Trump do seem strange bedfellows. Writers in this camp typically cite an arsenal of polls lending credence to their suggestion that evangelicals favor Trump. Here’s a few from Monmouth University, The Washington Post, MSNBC, and Public Policy Polling.

And yet, many conservative commentators have suggested that the story is more complex. As noted by Sarah Posner here on RD, Warren Cole Smith just published a piece in WORLD Magazine which asserts that widespread evangelical support for Trump is “a myth” born out of small sample sizes and inadequate criteria for classification as “evangelical.” On the latter point, Smith writes:

The myth likely started in August, when a Fox News poll said Trump was the top choice of “white evangelical” voters. But polls like this use methodology that allows respondents to self-identify their religious affiliation without any examination of their actual beliefs…

Chris Anderson, president of Anderson Robbins Research, which helped conduct the Fox News poll, told me the survey question asked, “Would you describe yourself as a born-again or evangelical Christian?” That may sound like a straightforward question, but people who do religion polling for a living know a dirty little secret: People lie, and there’s no way to know they’ve lied unless you ask more questions that expose the lie. A famous Barna survey found that while more than 25 percent of Americans self-identify as evangelicals, less than 10 percent actually hold historically evangelical beliefs, such as the divinity of Jesus, a historical resurrection, and the authority of the Bible.

Smith does have a point. He cites a recent Gallup poll which had Trump in twelfth place among “highly religious” voters (now eleventh, after the dropping out of Gov. Rick Perry). Other commentators have also been quick to point out the negative association between religiosity and support for Trump, indicating that practicing evangelicals may well be the group “least excited about Trump.”

Honestly, I would love nothing more than to find a poll which conclusively gets us evangelicals off the hook for Trump’s unprecedented rise. Unfortunately, Smith’s arguments sidestep a larger problem and, in doing so, prematurely absolve evangelicals of any responsibility for Trump’s ugly ascendance.

What’s the larger problem that Smith overlooks?

Even if it’s only 20% of practicing evangelicals that support Donald Trump, 20% of practicing evangelicals still support Donald Trump! Best case scenario, one in five practicing evangelicals—people with an active commitment to pattern their lives on the ministry and teachings of Jesus—now voice support for a candidate whose principle calling cards include chauvinism, nativism, misogyny, and outright incompetence.

Smith ends his piece by claiming that evangelicals “look at Trump and see a man whose political positions, personal lifestyle, and bombastic rhetoric are not consistent with what they know their evangelical doctrine and theology teaches.” This may be true for many, and it very well may be true for more evangelicals than we previously thought. And yet, one in five clearly don’t feel this way. One in five revel in Trump’s “political positions, personal lifestyle, and bombastic rhetoric”—or at the very least don’t reject it. Not to mention the fact that the favorite alternative of these “practicing evangelicals,” Ben Carson, has recently demonstrated a disturbing willingness to sink to Trump’s level.

Evangelicals are quick to lament the perceived moral degradation of American culture, particularly in the realms of sexual and reproductive ethics. Yet, I see a much more troubling trend at work in our relationship to Donald Trump. That Trump’s numbers refuse to drop, despite his flagrant displays of disrespect, reveals the extent to which these very elements are at work within our own faith community. Whether it’s 40% or 20% or 5% of us seems, at this point, like so much hair splitting.

The unfortunate reality is, Trump may not go away anytime soon. While pundits and pollsters keep themselves busy predicting when Trump will hit his “polling ceiling,” he shows no sign of giving up his lead in the polls. Far from hitting a “polling ceiling,” many are now rightly worried that Trump has found his “polling floor.”

For Christians, Trump’s persistent presence in the GOP primary should be a concern. The fact that he has duped even a small fraction of the faithful into actively supporting his campaign should be cause for even more worry.

Maybe, instead of focusing such inordinate attention on the cultural decline supposedly evidenced by the legalization of same-sex marriage, we Christians should be confronting the more unattractive truth that Trump’s vacuous, hate-mongering rhetoric—rhetoric which puts vulnerable people in actual, physical danger—actually resonates with some of our peers beside us in the pews.

In other words, perhaps evangelicals should take the “yuge” plank out of our own eye before attempting to remove a speck from the nation’s.


  •' Jim Reed says:

    Trump might be the least of your political problems. The bigger question might be what percentage of evangelicals support the Republican party. Evangelicals voted 80% for Bush, then after he started his war of choice against a non-enemy for purposes of control of other people’s oil, evangelicals voted 80% for him again. He backed up his war of choice with torture, and evangelicals turned out to be the segment of the US population that was most supportive of torture. Then after Bush crashed the economy, all for greed of the rich, evangelicals voted 79% for McCain/Palin even though the Republicans were now openly talking about a “greed is good” philosophy and demanding the right to not share any wealth. Trump won’t get elected, but what the evangelicals have done has left a trail of destruction harming us and the world and splitting our nation in two.

  •' SisterLea says:

    Hopefully, the pope’s visit and pastoral follow-up can begin to turn some of this around.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    I am sure it will help for Catholics, but maybe not so much for the fundamentalists. It is probably still an open question for the politicians. They are good at following the votes, so that will be the key to what happens.

  •' Well_Read says:

    I’ve seen many preachers, in person and on air, that have the exact personality as Trump. Many are very wealthy, private jets, etc. Pastors feel the same way trump does about hispanics, except they feel that for non-christians. Saying Trumps personality is not evangelical like totally falls flat.

    Trump is clearly not religious, neither is Hillary. They both fake it for votes and acceptance like many of our past presidents have. A Trump/Hillary election would be the first time, maybe, we have two seculars running for president. Since they have to swear to defend a secular constitution, that’s a good thing.

  •' Lillith70 says:

    As id the religious right would go for greed over the rights of the democrat saleable aborted fetuses?

    Obama has divided the nation. Privilege for some and not others> Power to the minorities to rule the majorities. That ought to provide enough chaos for any leftist Utopian experiment.

    Muslim and Atheist friends, Farrakhan and Ayers are so radically driven by ideology and change to get more power for their ideas that they can’t control their mouths as Ayers did in Iran and Farrakhan recently in some anti-white diatribe.

  •' Lillith70 says:

    We do not need a theocracy. Some evangelicals were leery of Mitt the Mormon for this very reason–fear of a theocracy that LDS have no wish to make. Jesus said render unto Caesar.

    Mitt Romney proved one thing. He thought he could get elected without the usual gutter machinations. Civility and showing a better way? Like that is what the Scots Irish who populated most of our wars find as the final solution. Not demanding the vetting of obama was a big mistake IMO.

    The evangelicals in form of the Tea Party can make of break this election. Can they moderate their religious wants and ideas with their political ones? A defining moment in the country.

    Ben Carson is a Seventh Day Adventist, the fastest growing church in the country. Will his church be given the microscopic exam that Mitt the Mormon’s was? And how will that work for the country? i could care less what he believes about the second coming or his church. Nixon was a Quaker, congregation based. How can you get into the heart of a man except by his fruits and perceived persona (though I wouldn’t buy into what the hordes of the herd will as they project their hopes into those they perceive most like them selves? I only trust the party machine platform and that only to the degree that they will respond to the will of the people.)

    Only God can save us but is it in the Plan? His ways are not our ways–thankfully.

  •' Lillith70 says:

    The USA gives the Catholic Church 130-160 million some such. The other churches keep the western Europe Constantinian RC trinity of Nicaea and have signed something with the RC as in agreement for some world cooperation to help the poor.. The Pope has political power and in much speaks to and for the world and world peace.

    Others pick and choose the good among his words and weigh the political options. The RC have accepted the Dead Sea Scrolls and other archeological findings as they are unearthed. They also believe in miracles.

    At the beginning of the USA the non-conformist Anglicans and Quakers, the pilgrims and Puritan were very anti-Catholic and the vestiges of the top down leadership remaining in the Anglican church. For this reason, Washington and Jefferson, Virginians made sure their was no state religion for the USA.

    We have evolved so far in the last 5-600 years that i wonder if many know what the English were like when the King was also head of the church (and before) Mandatory church attendance.

    Now we have nearly a different philosophy for each person and much is political?

    The working poor or blue collar are Republicans in the south and west.

    Only home for the populist white folks? That same old Scots Irish backbone?

  •' Well_Read says:

    reagan and gw bush did more to tear down the wall of separation than anyone so far. they did it by executive orders and regulation changes that didnt need congressional approval and couldn’t be challenged in court. that’s what a christian fanatic can do as president and what they would do (they just cant help themselves).

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