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Current Page: Politics | Tuesday, October 22, 2019
Most white evangelicals will support Trump regardless of personal conduct, poll finds

Most white evangelicals will support Trump regardless of personal conduct, poll finds

Evangelical supporters of Donald Trump praying at a rally in Florida in this undated photo. | (Photo: Reuters/Carlo Allegri)

Impeachment proceedings haven’t diminished white evangelical support for President Donald Trump. Most white evangelicals say Trump’s personal conduct makes no difference in, or increases, their support for him, a new poll shows.

The Public Religion Research Institute released its 10th annual American Values Survey — the organization’s flagship research report — on Monday at a rollout event held at the progressive-leaning policy think tank Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. 

The data is based on interviews with 2,527 Americans taken in two different waves conducted between the end of August and mid-October to take into account the announcement of a House impeachment inquiry initiated against Trump on Sept. 24 based on accusations he pressured foreign leaders to advance his personal and political interests.

Included in the sample are 343 white evangelical Protestant respondents. 

“I think that the data here shows that [Trump’s] support among evangelicals is not just rock-solid, it is growing if you look at several years PRRI data here,” PRRI Board Chair Melissa Deckman, professor of public affairs at Washington College in Maryland, said during the panel discussion at the rollout event. 

“Although this wasn’t broken down among religious tradition, I thought one of the most telling figures in the analysis was that 94 percent of Republicans believe that their party is trying to protect the American way of life from outside influence. I think evangelicals continue to back Donald Trump because they view him as their champion. He has delivered on many policies that other Republican presidents haven’t.” 

The research found that while only 39 percent of respondents said they approve of the job Trump is doing as president, over three-quarters of white evangelicals surveyed (77 percent) say they approve of the job Trump is doing as president. 

In addition, 50 percent of white evangelical respondents indicated that they “strongly approve” of the job Trump is doing while 53 percent of all respondents said they strongly disapprove of the job Trump is doing. 

By comparison, 54 percent of white mainline Protestants said they approve of Trump’s job approval, with only 27 percent of white mainline Protestants said they “strongly approve.”

White Catholics were more evenly divided, with 50 percent saying they disapprove of the job Trump is doing and 48 percent saying they approve. 

Racial minority Christians, on the other hand, were less likely to approve the job Trump is doing.

Only 28 percent of Hispanic Catholics approve of Trump’s job performance while 72 percent of Hispanic Catholic respondents said they disapprove. Eighty-six percent of black Protestant respondents (208 surveyed) also said they disapprove of the job Trump is doing as president. 

As for the religiously unaffiliated, 81 percent of respondents say they disapprove of the job Trump is doing. 

“Trump has become quite an expert at exploiting this sense of persecution. It’s the issue of ‘Are whites more discriminated against?’” Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin argued during the discussion. “They have found Donald Trump [to be] their cultural, their racial champion, their religious champion. That’s why religiosity ethics doesn’t figure in.”

“He is their ideological, racial [warrior],” she continued. “Hence, I would be surprised if his support goes down below the low-30s, mid-30s because those people are not going to leave him ever.”  

While the research found that majorities of nearly every religious demographic said that Trump’s personal conduct makes them less likely to support the president, white evangelicals were an exception. 

Although 36 percent of white evangelicals say that Trump’s conduct makes them less likely to support Trump, a plurality (47 percent) of white evangelicals say that Trump’s personal conduct “does not make a difference” in their support for him. Sixteen percent of white evangelical respondents said that Trump’s conduct makes it “more likely” they will support Trump politically. 

Sixty-two percent of all respondents said that Trump's personal conduct and behavior makes them less likely to support him. Thirty percent of respondents said the president's conduct makes no difference to them. Only 8 percent said Trump's conduct makes them more inclined to support him. 

Fifty-five percent of Republican respondents said that Trump’s conduct makes no difference in their support and 20 percent of Republicans said that Trump’s personal conduct makes them more likely to support him. Only a quarter of Republicans say they are less likely to support Trump because of his personal conduct.

As for white non-evangelical protestants (423 surveyed), 54 percent said Trump’s personal conduct makes them less likely to support him while 36 percent said it does not make a difference. 

Eighty percent of black Protestants and 63 percent of Hispanic Protestants say that Trump’s personal conduct makes them less likely to support him.

While majorities of all other major religious groups besides white evangelical Protestants said they believe that Trump has damaged the dignity of the presidency, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of white evangelicals believe that Trump has not damaged the office’s dignity. 

Two-thirds of all respondents said they believe that Trump has damaged the dignity of the presidency. Seventy-six percent of Republicans agreed that Trump has not damaged the presidency while 92 percent of Democrats disagree. 

Far more than any other religious group, 86 percent of white evangelicals said that “America first” is a term they would use to describe themselves, while 77 percent of white Catholics, 76 percent of white mainline Protestants, 69 percent of black Protestants and 65 percent of “other Christians” said the same thing. Only 65 percent of all respondents chose the term “America first” to describe themselves.

“I think what Trump has done during his presidency when he talks about ‘America first’ among his very devout believers who are very religious and white, he is really stoking some strong Christian nationalism viewpoints,” Deckman argued. “I think that is what is going on here.” 

Between white and black Christians, differences emerged about whether they feel Trump’s behavior and decisions have encouraged white supremacist groups. 

Seventy-eight percent of black Protestants, 74 percent of white religiously unaffiliated respondents, 68 percent of Hispanic Catholics and 66 percent of Hispanic Protestants feel that Trump’s behavior and decisions have encouraged white supremacist groups.

Meanwhile, only 21 percent of white evangelicals, 45 percent of white mainline protestants and 48 percent of white Catholics said the same. 

“This sort of Christian gap here between African American and Latino Christians and White Christians is enormous on a question like this,” PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones said while providing an overview of the data. 

Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, the survey found that evangelical protestants are among the most unified in their support for Trump, with 82 percent of white evangelicals surveyed saying they prefer Trump to be the Republican presidential nominee in 2020. 

As the impeachment inquiry continues, the PRRI data show that Republican white evangelicals (99 percent) and Republicans who say Fox News is their primary source of news (98 percent) are the most likely to oppose impeachment and removal of Trump from office. 

Prior to the announcement of the House impeachment proceedings, PRRI found that 47 percent of Americans favored impeaching and removing Trump from office. But after going back into the field to survey respondents following the impeachment announcement, 51 percent of Americans said they were in favor of impeachment and removal in mid-October. 

“That is where we were a year ago,” Jones said. “There is basically no change between 2018 and 2019 until the last month.”

“For Republicans, it went from 6 (percent) to 7 (percent) in the last month,” he added. “For Democrats, we have a 10-point jump just in the last year. Most of that movement is really Democrats and there is no movement among Republicans at all.” 

As for white evangelicals, 12 percent of white evangelicals surveyed in mid-September said they supported the idea of impeaching and removing Trump from office. In mid-October, 16 percent of white evangelicals said the same thing. 

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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