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Religious News: What's Behind Evangelical Support For Donald Trump?

Nov 07, 2016

What's Behind Evangelical Support for Donald Trump? Less Than You Think

When Jimmy Carter was elected president, a famous Newsweek cover story proclaimed 1976 to be "the year of the evangelical."

Almost exactly 40 years later, many Americans are struggling to understand how twice-divorced casino owner Donald Trump could end up as the evangelical of the year.

Nearly two-thirds of likely evangelical voters, 65 percent, said they support Trump in a nationwide survey released Tuesday by the nonprofit Public Religion Research Institute — this after the airing of an 11-year-old video in which he was recorded lewdly bragging about having made sexually inappropriate advances to married women.

Likewise, a survey released Monday by the religious polling group Barna reported that Trump leads Hillary Clinton by 55 percent to 2 percent among likely evangelical voters in next month's general election.

Such support has been remarkably consistent since Trump emerged as the Republican nominee — hitting a high of 78 percent in a July survey by the nonprofit Pew Research Center's Project on Religion & Public Life.

And widely known evangelical leaders remain committed to Trump, including:

  • James Dobson, founder of Family Talk Radio and the advocacy group Focus on the Family

  • Tony Perkins, president of the Christian conservative Family Research Council

  • Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and former executive director of evangelist Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition

  • Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., and son of Jerry Falwell Sr., co-founder of the Moral Majority

You might ask, "How can that be?"

But in the context of how modern candidates, operatives and pollsters define evangelical Christianity as a political constituency, a better question might be: "How could it be otherwise?"

From June: At Critical Moment, Trump Courts Skeptical Evangelicals

Take a closer look at the polls.

Historically, major polling organizations have categorized Christian respondents' faith into a few main groups: Catholics, mainline Protestants, white evangelicals, African-American Protestants and those with no religious identity.