Most white evangelicals favored Trump until the end: poll

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

Despite leaving with his lowest favorability ratings since the summer of 2016, former President Donald Trump remained popular among white evangelicals well into his final days in office, a new survey released by the Public Religion Research Institute shows.

The survey, conducted Jan. 15-18, a week after hundreds of Trump supporters and others stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, said 62% of white evangelical Protestants expressed favorable views of the former president. The poll of 1,019 adults randomly selected from across all 50 states reflected a 3% increase in support for Trump over a similar survey conducted in November.

Among Catholics, Trump’s support slipped from 51% in November to 39% in January. His support among white mainline Protestants, however, grew from 34% in November to 41% in January. Among Christians of color and people who are religiously unaffiliated, Trump’s favorability rating registered a paltry 19%.

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Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives for a second time earlier this month, making him the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice. A year earlier, Trump was impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate on charges of abuse of power and obstructing Congress related to a July 25, 2019, phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in which he urged the newly elected president to look into then-former Vice President Joe Biden's and his son Hunter Biden's dealings in Ukraine.

In 2016, Biden threatened to withhold $1 billion in U.S. aid to Ukraine unless its top prosecutor, General Viktor Shokin, was fired. At the time, Shokin was investigating the Burisma energy company which had been paying Hunter Biden $50,000 a month as a member of its board since 2014. 

Democrats claimed Trump was trying to aid himself politically by asking for foreign interference against a potential Democratic opponent ahead of the 2020 election. The Trump administration denied those accusations and declassified a transcript of the call with Zelensky.

In the House's second impeachment, which passed by a vote of 232-197 and was backed by all House Democrats and 10 Republicans, the impeachment article accused the former president of committing an “incitement of insurrection” because the riot at the Capitol broke out as he was speaking at the Ellipse near the White House and escalated after. 

In his speech to supporters, Trump said Republicans need to “fight much harder.” He also urged them to protest the certification of the election results, which he said were tainted by fraud. 

“We’re going to cheer on brave senators and congressmen and women, and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them. Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.”

“I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard,” Trump added, referring to a separate rally where other speakers were scheduled to speak that afternoon. That event never took place, however, because the riot had already ensued.  

Although the president said he would go with his supporters to the Capitol, he didn't, though he encouraged them to “fight like hell” for the country.

“If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” he said. “Let the weak ones get out,” he went on. “This is a time for strength.”

Trump's critics argue that the speech incited the violence at the Capitol that resulted in the deaths of five Americans.

Police shot and killed an unarmed woman as she attempted to climb through a smashed door pane into the House chamber during the riot while three others died from health emergencies. U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick, 42, who is believed to have died due to the pepper spray or bear spray used against the rioters in conjunction with a preexisting medical condition. Another Capitol police officer who responded to the riot died by suicide on Jan 9. It's unknown whether the riot and aftermath contributed to his decision to take his own life. 

The results of the PRRI poll reflect the general sentiments shared by many evangelicals and faith leaders after the riot at the Capitol.

"I don't think it was the president's finest moment," Franklin Graham, head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse, told USA Today. But he didn’t see it as a deterrent to evangelical Christian support for Trump.

“He is without doubt the most pro-life and pro-religious president in history,” Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of the 14,000-member First Baptist Dallas also told the publication of Trump a week before he left office. “The president has every right to hold the view that the election was fraudulent and to invite those who share that belief to peacefully protest. He neither called for nor condoned the despicable actions of those who invaded our Capitol and assaulted the police.”

In the PRRI poll Biden was viewed favorably by about nine in 10 Democrats, 89%. These numbers have not shifted substantially since rising to that level in September 2020, PRRI noted. More than half, 54%, view Biden very favorably.

Among Independents, 51%, viewed the new president favorably, which is a decrease over November when 58% view Biden favorably. Only 16% of Republicans indicated a favorable opinion of Biden.

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