The overwhelming majority of white evangelical voters are leaning toward casting their ballots for President Donald Trump in November, even though the religious group’s approval of the president has recently dipped, a new Pew Research Center survey has found.
White evangelicals’ approval of how Trump is handling his job slipped 6 percentage points, from 78% in April to 72%, in June, Pew reported in a survey published Tuesday. The percentage of white evangelicals who “very strongly” approved of Trump’s performance dropped 8 points during the same period, from 67% to 59%.
Regardless of this dip, white evangelicals are still by far the religious group that is most supportive of Trump’s performance. In addition, when researchers asked white evangelical registered voters to reveal what they would do in the ballot box, 82% of those surveyed said either that they would vote for Trump or that they leaned toward voting for him. Only 17% said they would back the presumed Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden.
In 2016, 77% of white evangelicals voted for Trump and 16% voted for Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, according to Pew’s postelection survey of validated voters.
Across religious groups ― even among some Black Protestants ― Pew observed a modest uptick in approval for Trump in mid-April. This “rallying around the flag,” likely caused by the coronavirus pandemic, largely fizzled out by the time Pew conducted its mid-June survey. The rise and fall of Trump’s approval among white evangelicals mimicked that trend.
Pew’s new survey demonstrates that despite the tumult of recent weeks ― including the administration’s controversial dispersal of protesters near the White House to accommodate a photo shoot outside a church ― white evangelicals’ views about the president have remained positive.
“While this new data does show a modest change in views toward Trump, one continually striking fact is the stability in the data through many major events during his presidency (impeachment, coronavirus and the Floyd protests, just to name a few recent ones),” Greg Smith, Pew’s associate director of research, told HuffPost.
“The fact that 8 in 10 white evangelical Protestants plan to vote for him ― very similar to the numbers we saw in 2016 ― indicates a great deal of stability in views toward the president among some of his core supporters,” Smith said.
White evangelicals’ political priorities ― their views on abortion rights and the appointment of conservative justices to the Supreme Court ― have long influenced their loyalty to Trump and to the Republican Party. Many in this religious group associate voting for a Democrat with voting to “kill babies” or voting for socialism, which they view as a “godless” alternative to capitalism, according to Gerardo Marti, a sociology professor at Davidson College and the author of “American Blindspot: Race, Class, Religion, and the Trump Presidency.”
White evangelicals may not approve of everything that Trump does or says, but the alternative is unthinkable, Marti said.
“They still can’t imagine voting for a Democrat, even if it’s a Christian Democrat like Joe Biden and even if it’s a person with a gentler demeanor, like Joe Biden,” Marti said. “Because for them, after many years, they have cultivated a particular identity, and that identity wraps itself around certain things which they perceive to be biblical and right and true, and to move away from that is threatening.”
White Christians ― including evangelicals, mainline Protestants and Catholics ― signaled that they were planning to vote for Trump. Most Black Protestants and religiously unaffiliated Americans indicated that they would vote for Biden.
Pew’s survey also offered an early look at how major American religious groups feel about Biden. The only group in which the majority of respondents said that Biden would be a “great” or “good” president was Black Protestants.
The religiously unaffiliated, a fast-growing segment of the Democratic Party, were much less enthusiastic about a Biden presidency. Most said Biden would be an “average” president (39%).
The unaffiliated are concerned about fundamentalist evangelical beliefs encroaching on the American legal system, which is what they believe could happen if Trump stays in the White House, Marti said. As a result, they view Biden in a way that’s similar to how some white evangelicals think about Trump, he said.
The unaffiliated may not fully embrace Biden’s candidacy, but the alternative ― four more years of Trump ― is seen as being far worse.
“The Biden campaign is for the most part trusting that there’s going to be enough people motivated, knowing that it’s a binary choice practically speaking, to mark the box or pull the lever for Joe Biden,” Marti said.
Pew’s online survey panel was recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. For this report, researchers surveyed 4,708 U.S. adults from June 16 to 22, 2020.