Ever since Ronald Reagan ousted Jimmy Carter from the White House in 1980, conservative Christians as a group have consistently backed the Republican candidate for president. That is likely to happen again this year, but perhaps without the same oomph.
According to a poll released earlier this month by the Barna Group, a Christian pollster, the evangelical vote for Donald Trump next week could be as much as 20 percent lower than usual. So, while other polls have indicated that conservative Christians have rallied toward Trump since he won the Republican nomination earlier this year, it’s evidently not with the vim and vigor they might have displayed in the past. The Barna Poll also said that nearly three out of 10 evangelicals are undecided, and one out of eight are likely to vote for a third-party candidate as a protest.
A poll from PRRI, a nonpartisan group, suggests that evangelicals aren’t holding their candidate to the same high standards like they’ve done in the past. In a survey released earlier this month, 70 percent of evangelical Protestants say an elected official can behave ethically even if they have committed transgressions in their personal life. Five years ago just 30 percent of evangelical Protestants felt that way.
Many of those in the Christian Right who are not part of the Trump camp, according to Union College professor Zoe Oxley, are women.
“Evangelical voters do support Trump more than Clinton, although there is a notable gender gap among these voters,” said Oxley, a political science professor who got her Ph.D. at Ohio State University in 1998. “Support for Trump among male Protestant evangelicals is approximately 10 percentage points higher than among female Protestant evangelicals, mirroring the gender gap among voters overall.”
Jen Hatmaker, an author, an evangelical motivational speaker and the star of her own reality TV show on HGTV, “My Big Family Renovation,” has called Trump “a national disgrace.” But for many other conservative Christians their vote may come down to who will best fill the vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Trump is the candidate evangelicals think will be more likely to oppose same-sex marriage and abortion,” said Oxley. “If elected, he would more likely appoint Supreme Court justices who also oppose these issues.” said Oxley.
For Bradley Onishi, a Religious Studies professor at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, keeping a close eye on the nexus of politics and religion in U.S. history is fascinating.
“In the past half-century, religion has been a powerful force in the American public sphere,” said Onishi. “One example of this is the deep connection between the Civil Rights Movement and black churches. Martin Luther King Jr., the activist, was always Martin Luther King Jr., the minister. For many, this is an example of how the intentional entanglement of religion and politics from the pulpit has provided prophetic and affirming voices; voices that enabled resistance to exclusionary and prejudicial laws and our social mores of the time. That is an incredible part of the history of American religion.”
The next time religion had a significant impact on politics was when the Christian right and the Republican Party joined forces to create the Moral Majority in 1979.
“Some will remember that before G.W. Bush, our last explicitly and vociferous evangelical president was a Democrat named Jimmy Carter,” said Onishi. “He was a Baptist Sunday school teacher who was voted out of office in part due to Jerry Falwell Sr. and the newly formed Religious Right or Moral Majority. Although Reagan wasn’t as devout a Christian as Carter, he was aligned politically with conservative religious leaders like Falwell. So, conservative Christians ushered out a Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher from the presidency because although their faiths were similar, their politics were divergent.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]