Just four percent of American pastors say that they are planning to vote for Republican billionaire Donald Trump for president.
The Nashville-based Christian research organization LifeWay conducted a survey to gauge how pastors are likely to vote in the upcoming 2016 presidential election. LifeWay researchers conducted phone interviews with over 1,000 senior pastors, priests and ministers from various Protestant churches all over the United States during a two-week time span in January.
As headlines in the media and even Trump's statements make it seem that like real estate mogul is having large success gaining the support of evangelical voters, LifeWay's survey was released Tuesday and shows that although Trump might be successful in attracting some self-identified Evangelicals, his message is failing to win over members of the clergy.
Among all Protestant pastors surveyed, just four percent say they would vote for Trump for president.
While over 47 percent of the pastors say they are "undecided" on who to vote for, Cruz received the most support of any candidate, as 17 percent of the pastors say they would vote for Cruz.
Ben Carson came in second place with seven percent of pastors saying they plan to vote for Carson, while Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton and Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio were tied for third with six percent of pastors indicating they would vote for either of them.
As 54 percent of the pastors identified as Republicans and only 14 percent identified as Democrats, Cruz's support among Republican pastors is much higher. Twenty-nine percent of GOP pastors say they will vote for Cruz, while only five percent of Republican pastors say they would vote for Trump.
"One of the most surprising findings of our survey was the poor showing of Donald Trump," Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, said in a statement. "When it comes to Mr. Trump, there seems to be a huge gap between the pulpit and the pew."
As a RealClearPolitics average of national Republican nomination polling finds that Trump is in first place and ahead of second-place Cruz by a 15.6-percentage-point margin, Stetzer added that there seems to be a major divide between evangelical churchgoers who say they are supporting Trump and their pastors, who are more likely to stay away from the businessman.
"One of the few religious groups that national polls track are evangelical Christians, and it is hard not to notice a surprising gap between them and their pastors," says Stetzer. "Based on most other polls, rank-and-file evangelicals and church attendees are most likely supporting Trump. Yet, pastors are undecided or more likely to support Cruz. The absence of support for Trump is similar to unscientific surveys of evangelical leaders from the National Association of Evangelicals and WORLD Magazine that have consistently pointed to Rubio."
As 39 percent of GOP pastors remain "undecided" about who to vote for, over 54 percent of pastors 65 years and older said they are undecided about who to vote for. Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, who endorsed Cruz earlier this week, believes that more undecided pastors will park in Cruz's camp.
"As I have come to trust Ted Cruz for his consistent constitutional conservatism, so are America's pastors. I believe he has the highest level of support among America's pastors because his political rhetoric matches his public record," Perkins said. "Pastors know better than anyone the threats – primarily court driven — to religious liberty and they understand how the freedom to believe serves as the foundation for all our other freedoms. The threat is not hypothetical; it is a clear and present danger."
"I see Ted's support rising among pastors in part because Ted understands the Constitution and the Supreme Court better than any candidate in this race," Perkins added.
Among Democratic pastors, Clinton is the clear favorite.
In comparison to the mostly undecided block of Republican pastors, more Democratic pastors (38 percent) plan to vote for Clinton than the amount of pastors (31 percent) who say they are "undecided." Twenty-three percent of Democratic pastors say they will vote for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, while just one percent plan to vote for former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.