A new national poll has found that Donald Trump did not actually win more evangelical support than 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, and also found that Trump's most significant support actually came from "notional Christians."
Last week, the California-based evangelical polling firm, The Barna Group, released the results from its national online survey, which consisted of responses from a total of 1,281 adults that included 1,134 registered voters who were interviewed in two waves from Nov. 4 to Nov. 6 and Nov. 9 to Nov. 16.
The finding from the research, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, contests the widely reported notion that Trump received a higher percentage of support from evangelicals (81 percent) than Romney in 2012 and Bush in 2004.
The claims that Trump earned more evangelical support are based off of exit polls, which found that Bush and Romney who both earned 78 percent of white evangelical/born-again Christians.
According to Barna, 79 percent of evangelicals, whom represented seven percent of total voters, voted for Trump. Barna's analysis of the results states that Trump's 79-percent mark with evangelicals "was actually the lowest level of evangelical support for a Republican candidate since Bob Dole lost to Bill Clinton in 1996." In 2012, Barna found that 81 percent of evangelicals supported Romney. In 2016, 18 percent of evangelicals supported Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
"One of those misdiagnoses was their assertion that the election featured a record-breaking turnout among evangelicals. While their turnout was strong, it was not record-breaking," George Barna, the founder of the organization said in a statement. "In fact, evangelicals' concern over the character of both candidates kept many of them from choosing a candidate until very late in the process, and a higher-than-usual proportion of them voted for the more liberal candidate."
Barna's criteria for what qualifies respondents to be classified as evangelicals goes much more in depth than most polling groups, as it lays out nine different qualifications that respondents must meet in order to be categorized as an evangelical.
For those Christians who didn't quite meet the criteria to be considered an evangelical, they were either grouped as non-evangelical born-again Christians or "notional Christians." According to Barna, notional Christians "are people who consider themselves to be Christian but they have not made 'a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today' or believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior."
Non-Christians were grouped into two other categories — non-Christian (of other faiths) or skeptics (agnostics, atheists).
The research finds that notional Christians were arguably the most important demographic to Trump's victory over Clinton.
"These individuals – who consider themselves to be Christian, typically attend a Christian church, but are not born again – have supported the Democratic candidate in every election since 1996," the Barna analysis wrote. "On average, notionals have given the Democratic candidate 58 percent of their votes. That trend was broken this year as Hillary Clinton took just 47 percent of the group's votes while Trump was awarded 49 percent. Given that notionals are by far the largest of the five faith segments, that transition was a game changer for the Republicans."
Catholic voters also gave Trump a boost that they did not give other Republican nominees before him. As 48 percent of Catholics supported Trump and 48 percent of Catholics supported Clinton, that marked the first time in 20 years that the Catholic vote was not won exclusively by the Democratic candidate.
Considering that 56 percent of non-evangelical born-again Christians favored Trump and only 35 percent of them favored Clinton, all of the Christian sub-groups identified by Barna voted more in favor of Trump than Clinton. However, those who did not identify as Christians were more likely to favor Clinton over Trump.
"Each of the three Christian segments – evangelicals, non-evangelical born agains, and notional Christians – went with Trump," Barna said in his statement.
"Think about all of the significant faith-driven events in the campaign. Eight evangelicals ran for the GOP nomination. There were high-profile meetings featuring the major candidates with large groups of faith leaders," Barna added. "Big Data targeting efforts focused upon voters' faith inclination were employed. Key issues in the race, such as the Supreme Court nominations, abortion, and religious liberty, were intimately related to peoples' religious perspectives and passions. Numerous churches and religious coalitions held prayer rallies and fasting vigils. Like it or not, the importance of peoples' faith was front and center in this election."
Despite having a greater percentage of turnout among born-again Christians, Barna reports that the born-again aggregate produced eight million fewer votes than it did in 2012 because "the proportion of voting born-again adults dropped from 37 percent to 31 percent." Meanwhile, votes cast by people in the non-Christian aggregates rose by 15 million, Barna found.