Three Key Points on White Evangelical Support for Trump

Three Key Points on White Evangelical Support for Trump July 13, 2016

Pew has a new poll out estimating that 78% of registered voters who are white evangelicals would support Donald Trump.

With all the talk of Trump struggling to consolidate evangelical elitessupport, this poll seems to indicate that he is doing just fine with the rank-and-file. Better, in fact, than Mitt Romney was doing in June 2012.

Source: Pew Research Center
Source: Pew Research Center

Let’s not get carried away here, folks. A few quick points:

First, what is an evangelical? We see this term thrown around a lot, and seldom carefully defined. Pew has a pretty broad screen for “evangelical” identity. It is not based at all on markers of religiosity like doctrinal beliefs or frequency of worship attendance. Journalists and media outlets are aware that the precise meaning of “evangelical” is contested, but you rarely get nuanced reporting on this dynamic, especially in the hours after a major new poll is released.

Second, white evangelicals — whoever they are — have been strongly acculturated against voting for Democrats, particularly Clintons, for more than two decades. Just because Donald Trump is obnoxious does not mean that many of these folks will go cast a ballot for Hillary Clinton. They’ve been told that voting is important, that who wins the White House is a matter of grave concern for Christians. Few evangelical voters are going to stay home.

Third, the evangelical #NeverTrump effort is a grasstops, not a grassroots, initiative. This means that leaders are driving the suggestion that a Christian should not vote for someone as blatantly unchristian as Trump, but the message is not trickling down to the people in the pews. These guys wanted Rubio, and look how that turned out. The fact is, there just aren’t that many evangelicals who subscribe to the National Review and follow Russell Moore on Twitter.

White evangelicals have been told too loudly for too long that they must vote, and must vote Republican. Donald Trump is a disruptive force in many ways, but he is not going to undo decades of political socialization for tens of millions of Americans.

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