82% of white evangelicals would vote for Trump despite concerns about job performance: study

Faith leaders place their hands on the shoulders of U.S. President Donald Trump as he takes part in a prayer for those affected by Hurricane Harvey in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., September 1, 2017.
Faith leaders place their hands on the shoulders of U.S. President Donald Trump as he takes part in a prayer for those affected by Hurricane Harvey in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., September 1, 2017. | REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Eighty-two percent of white evangelical Protestant registered voters say they would vote for President Donald Trump or lean toward voting for him if the 2020 presidential election were held today even though an increasing share of them disapprove of the way he has been doing his job, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

This support is 5% higher than the 77% of white evangelical Protestant voters who indicated in another Pew survey that they backed Trump after the 2016 presidential election. Exit polling has shown that 81% voted for him in 2016.

Results from the latest Pew survey conducted June 16 to 22, show that despite the strong support the president has among white evangelicals, a declining number approves of the way he has been handling his job in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the social unrest over racial injustice and police brutality. The survey shows that 72% of white evangelicals approve of the way the president is doing his job reflecting a 6% drop from two months ago.

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Only 17% said they would support his rival, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden whose campaign recently revealed that they are courting evangelical voters. Biden is only faring 1% better than 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton who got 16% of the white evangelical vote.

Some 26% of white evangelical Protestants say Biden would make a “poor” president while 49% believe he would be “terrible.”  Seventy percent of them say Trump has been good or great in his role.

Dean Inserra, the Southern Baptist pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Florida, told The Washington Post that Trump continues to enjoy strong support from evangelicals because he is seen as the “Christian” choice and a “defender” of the faithful.

“Some think that a vote for Trump is a Christian vote, that it means they’re voting against abortion or they’re happy with the Supreme Court. It’s the ends justifies the means,” he said. Trump “represents a defender of their way of life. He’s the representation of someone who’s on their side,” Inserra added.

Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, admitted to The Washington Post that there has been frustration and disappointment in evangelical ranks about Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s recent role in advancing both gay and abortion rights. 

In two major decisions last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and rejected a Louisiana state law requiring abortion providers to be held to similar standards as ambulatory surgical centers.

Evangelicals see the court decisions as fuel to ensure Trump is reelected to appoint more conservative judges to the Supreme Court, said Reed.

“Voters of faith know that that project to shift the court in a more conservative direction is on the 5-yard line and it’s a strategic imperative to get President Trump reelected,” he said. “The Louisiana decision has brought the life issue into fuller relief and reminded us why we have to give the president the chance to nominate more justices.”

But not all agree. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Public Theology Professor Andrew T. Walker argued that the Supreme Court's decision in favor of LGBT workers, which was written by Trump appointee Justice Neil Gorsuch, works against evangelicals' rationale in supporting Trump.

"Gorsuch writing the opinion eviscerates the main rationale that religious conservatives have in voting for Trump. ‘But Gorsuch’ is moot,” he contended.

Only 8% of black Protestants who overwhelmingly disapprove of President Trump said they would vote for him in the survey while 88% back Biden.

Some 54% of black Protestants said Biden would make a good or great president while 36% said he would be average. Another 8% indicated that Biden would be a poor or terrible leader.

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