As polls show President Donald Trump’s support slipping among white evangelicals, the campaign for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden sees an opening for their candidate to pull away voters from the president’s most faithful voting bloc.
“The battle for the soul of our nation deeply resonates with evangelicals,” John McCarthy, deputy national political director for the Biden Campaign, told David Brody, chief political analyst at the Christian Broadcasting Network, in a recent interview for Just the News. “They would be open to Joe Biden’s message as well.”
Earlier this month, Robert P. Jones, chief executive of the Public Religion Research Institute, noted in an interview with The New York Times that that since 2016, the share of the American population that is white and evangelical has declined by two percentage points, to 15%. A PRRI poll also found that while 80% of white evangelicals said they approved of the job the president was doing in March, by the end of May, with the coronavirus pandemic raging along with racial discord, his favorability sank to 62%. Among white Catholics, the poll also showed a decline in approval by 27%.
“He had an opportunity in March when people were looking to him. And then within four weeks he squandered it,” Jones said.
While Biden’s campaign admits that a majority of evangelicals are likely to remain with team Trump, they believe they can appeal to younger millennial evangelicals with more moderate views and suburban women. And they have been engaging with evangelical pastors and women around the country on issues like racial injustice, immigration reform and climate change.
“Those issues tug at the heart of faith voters,” McCarthy said.
A Politico report earlier this month said the Biden campaign was in the early stages of scheduling an on-camera sit-down with Brody, who also conducted several interviews with former President Barack Obama during his 2008 campaign following a successful effort of engaging with evangelicals.
Obama won 26% of the evangelical vote in 2008 and 21% in 2012. Hillary Clinton on the other hand only got 16% of the evangelical vote in 2016. She did not do significant outreach to evangelicals.
"I've been very clear that the invitation was not given in 2016,” Michael Wear, former faith outreach director for the Obama Campaign in 2012, told Just the News. “Broad swaths of the faith community did not feel like the Democratic nominee was interested in their vote."
Trump came away with 81% of the white evangelical vote.
Wear believes that Biden is on track to do what Obama did in his outreach to the faith community.
“I think he's doing what he needs to do to let people from different faith communities, moderate and conservative Christian voters, know that they can vote for him and they'll have a partner,” Wear said. "If former Vice President Biden is on track for those 2012 Obama numbers (21% of white evangelicals), he will win by a significant margin.”
The Biden campaign is also targeting Latino evangelicals and Catholics despite concerns about certain issues like abortion.
“Catholics are not single-issue voters,” McCarthy said. “It’s not about just one or two issues. It’s more of an overarching theme as to where are the lessons of Christ found.”
New New York Times/Siena College polls show Trump trailing at least slightly behind Biden in six states that he won in 2016, including Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where he trails by double digits.
“You can’t win with these numbers. They’re atrocious numbers,” Edward J. Rollins, co-chairman of the pro-Trump super PAC Great America and the former campaign manager for Ronald Reagan’s 1984 reelection campaign, told The Washington Post.
“The president must straighten his campaign out and convey to the American people that he can move forward and lead,” Rollins said. “He’s got to go out and add 10 points pretty quick. If he can do that, he’ll win. If not, Biden is sitting there as the alternative.”
A Pew Research Center Survey in March shows that 55% of Americans think Biden is at least somewhat religious compared to 28% who see President Trump that way.
“Here’s the problem for Trump: He needs to be at 81 percent or north (with evangelicals) to win reelection. Any slippage and he doesn’t get a second term, and that’s where Joe Biden comes into play,” Brody told Politico. “In this environment, with everything from the coronavirus to George Floyd and Trump calling himself the ‘law-and-order president,’ Biden could potentially pick off a percent or 2 from that 81 percent number.”