Republican frontrunner Donald Trump "has split" South Carolina's influential conservative evangelical voting bloc and is in a good position to win the South Carolina Republican Primary this Saturday, a Baptist pastor and a political science professor agree.
As Trump currently averages a 17.5-percentage point lead in South Carolina Republican nomination polling, a Monmouth University poll released Wednesday found that 33 percent of likely South Carolina primary voters say they will vote for the billionaire real estate mogul.
Brent Nelsen, a political science professor at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina,told The Christian Post that Trump's political message is appealing to a number of South Carolina conservative evangelicals who he never thought would vote for a guy like the billionaire real estate mogul.
"There are lot of evangelicals who are going for Trump," Nelsen, a Wheaton College graduate, said. "Guys at my church who I never would have thought would be that willing to vote for what seems to me to be a guy who is not real serious about his faith and at least not until he is running for office, but they don't care."
"Trump is very much drawing on the anger of so many people who feel like they haven't gotten much out of recent changes in the economy," Nelsen argued. "Donald Trump has decided that he is going to make it very clear that all the Republican leaders, in his mind, have not been doing their job and have not been representing the people that have voted for them for a long time and that he is finally going to do it."
If Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who currently sits in second place in the average of South Carolina nomination polling, or third-place Florida Sen. Marco Rubio hope to win South Carolina, they look to receive major support from the state's heavy influence of evangelical and conservative voters.
Nelsen explained that while a lot of evangelicals are pulling for Trump, most of the rest are backing Cruz. Nelsen also expects to see just a "smattering" of evangelical votes go to Rubio or establishment candidates like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Don Flowers, the pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Charleston, a moderate church affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, told CP that evangelicals in South Carolina today are more scattered on the issues that they care about, which makes them less likely to coalesce behind one candidate.
Flowers added that a number of evangelicals care deeply about immigration, which could hurt Cruz in his standing with some evangelicals.
"In the past, there have been single issues and the evangelical vote has really gravitated toward one candidate. I don't think that is the case this year," Flowers explained. "I don't see any one candidate capturing the evangelical vote this year. Cruz is saying a lot of the right things for many evangelical churches, but I also know that there are many, many evangelical churches that are very concerned about the immigration issue. Cruz has been so anti-immigration, which creates a schism within their thought."
In 2008, 43 percent of evangelicals who voted in the South Carolina Republican primary voted for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. In 2012, 44 percent of born-again evangelicals voted for former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
"It is one of these years where I am not certain that the evangelical vote is going to vote in a block like it has in the past," Flowers added. "I will be interested to see about that. I may be wrong about that but I will be surprised because of the multiple issues floating around."
Flowers added that he is surprised to see how Trump has been able to draw thousands of people to his campaign rallies in the evangelical upstate. One rally near Clemson University was attended by over 5,000 people.
Nelsen doesn't believe that the evangelical community will have as much of an impact in the overall outcome of the 2016 Republican primary as it has in the past.
"Bob Jones University does not have the kind of clout that the college used to have. There are just fewer fundamentalists," Nelsen explained. "There are a few evangelical churches and I would say that they are going to be influential but not decisive. I think that is probably right. I don't have a lot of data for that but because evangelicals are split, they are not going to have the big impact that they had. Trump has definitely split the evangelical vote in South Carolina, which means they are not going to be making the nomination."