Although a majority of American Protestant pastors say Christians have a “biblical responsibility” to vote, many are undecided themselves about which candidate to side with this election cycle.
A study conducted by the evangelical Christian research firm LifeWay Research found that Protestant pastors, who have a track record of favoring Republican presidential candidates by at least 35 percentage points, are much more indecisive about it this year than in the past two election cycles.
A phone survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors found that 40 percent of them are undecided about who they will vote for in the 2016 presidential election. Thirty-two percent said that they were voting for Republican candidate Donald Trump, while 19 percent said they were voting for the Democratic pick Hillary Clinton ― meaning that this year, Trump is leading by only 13 percentage points.
The results could be a symptom of a division within American Christianity. While a number of prominent Christians have sided with the Republican nominee, many evangelical leaders are firmly in the #NeverTrump camp, pointing out that the candidate’s policies and actions don’t reflect Christian values.
LifeWay researchers also asked the pastors what characteristic matters the most when choosing a candidate. The two most popular answers were personal character (27 percent) and the candidate’s likely Supreme Court nominees (20 percent). Other factors included the candidate’s ability to protect religious freedom (12 percent), his or her position on abortion (10 percent), and ability to improve the economy (6 percent).
Interestingly, pastors who said they are casting a vote for Trump were more likely to choose “likely Supreme Court nominees” and “position on abortion” as the candidate’s most important characteristic. The Trump voters were also less likely to say that personal character matters most.
On the other hand, Protestant pastors voting for Clinton were more likely to say that personal character and immigration issues were important in choosing how to vote this election season.
According to LifeWay Research, the survey was conducted before the first presidential debate, between August 22 and September 16. The Washington Post reports that the firm’s survey this year was conducted slightly earlier than the surveys done in 2012 and 2008. The margin of error for the 2016 study is plus or minus 3.2 percent.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.