Evangelicals who are exposed to a Christian Post writer's warning about Donald Trump's Satan-like bargain to evangelicals are more likely to have a negative opinion of the Republican presidential nominee, a new study has found.
A national experimental study conducted by four political science professors finds that white evangelical support for Trump could be partly due to an overwhelming majority of evangelicals not hearing their church leaders speak out against Trump.
While Trump continues to benefit from the support of white evangelicals in the electorate, many evangelical leaders have warned that Trump would be a dangerous choice. Among those, some have made "never Trump" arguments while others have been reluctant Trump supporters, because they see Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as even more dangerous. Only a few evangelical leaders have been enthusiastic Trump supporters or Hillary Clinton supporters.
The study is based on the responses of 2,572 American adults through Qualtrics Panels. The results of the experiment were published Friday by the Washington Post political science blog, The Monkey Cage.
Just nine percent of evangelicals have heard their pastors speak about Trump, while only six percent say they have heard their church leaders speak about Clinton.
"This suggests that support for Trump remains high among evangelicals in part because local religious elites are not regularly talking about his candidacy," professors Paul A. Djupe, Anand Edward Sokhey, Amanda Friesen and Andrew R. Lewis, wrote in their analysis. "Were those discussions to occur, it's possible that they would highlight concerns that many evangelical leaders might have about his moral character."
The professors conducted an experimental survey question in which they randomly assigned respondents to read one of three different three-paragraph op-eds that were modeled after an August op-ed written by Christian Post political analyst and editor Napp Nazworth.
One version of the op-ed features an argument that Nazworth made in his op-ed, stating that Trump's appeal to evangelicals "sounds dangerously close to Satan's offer to Jesus in Luke 4:9: 'All this I will give you,' he said, 'if you will bow down and worship me.'"
Another version of the op-ed features another argument Nazworth made in his op-ed, that although it was pragmatic to vote for establishment Republicans like John McCain or Mitt Romney, "pragmatism has bounds, and Trump is far outside the bounds of an acceptable presidential candidate."
The third version features an argument that Nazworth did not make in his op-ed, stating that Trump's appeal "runs directly against Matthew 25:40," which is Jesus' call for Christians to support the "least of these."
After reading, the respondents were asked to rate their feelings of Trump based on a 0-to-100 scale, with 100 representing a "very warm" feeling towards Trump.
As a control group, average rating of white evangelicals who didn't read any of the op-eds was 53. As for non-white evangelicals who didn't read any of the op-eds, the average rating was 30.
The only statistically significant difference the experiment produced was in the response of people who read Nazworth's argument comparing Trump's appeal to evangelicals to Satan's offer to Jesus. The average rating for white evangelicals who read that argument was 43, while the average rating for non-white evangelicals who read that argument was 21.
White evangelicals who read the "least of these" or the "pragmatism" arguments gave Trump an average rating of 48, while non-whites who read either of those statement gave Trump an average rating of 25.
Djupe told The Christian post that 536 self-identified white evangelicals participated in the survey, while 203 self-identified non-white evangelicals participated. The margin of error for the white evangelicals was plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, while the margin of error for the non-white evangelicals was plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.
"Ultimately, Trump's support among evangelicals is certainly due in part to the power of partisanship and the Republican Party's conservative stance on social issues," the professors wrote. "But our findings suggest that it is also due to the fact that evangelicals are hearing little about the presidential race from their local religious leaders."
Paul A. Djupe teaches political science at Denison University and is an affiliated scholar with PRRI. Anand Edward Sokhey is an associate professor of political science at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Amanda Friesen is an assistant professor of political science at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis. Andrew R. Lewis is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati.