It’s Not Just Evangelicals…

One way or another, it’s clear that white evangelical support for Donald Trump is the biggest religion-and-politics story to come out of the election. But as a former student pointed out to me yesterday, that’s not the only Christian group that might have some soul-searching to do.

Now, this is preliminary analysis of exit polls, and such conclusions don’t always hold up to later scrutiny further out from the election. But here are a few key findings from the non-partisan Pew Research Center:

  • A third of the voters in the exit poll sample reported attending religious services weekly. By a 16-point margin, they voted for Trump (56-40). Among the 22% polled who never attend a church, synagogue, mosque, etc., Clinton doubled Trump’s support (62-31).
  • The split in favor of Trump was biggest among white evangelicals (81-15), but Trump also won sizable majorities among white Catholics (60-37) and Mormons (61-25).
  • Among all Protestants lumped together (including, I assume, black Protestants who voted overwhelmingly in favor of Clinton), Trump still prevailed by 19 points (58-39).
  • Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City
    The Salt Lake Temple – Creative Commons (Doug Kerr)

    And he won the overall Catholic vote 52-45, despite that group having gone for Gore and (twice) Obama. That’s in part because one in four Hispanic Catholics voted for Trump.

  • The religious makeup of the electorate was quite similar to 2012, with Catholics down 2 points and the religious “nones” up by three.
  • Compared to 2012, Trump fared worse than Mitt Romney among only two religious groups: Mormons (-17) and Jews (-6).
  • Those were also the only two religious groups with whom Clinton even slightly outperformed Barack Obama (by four and two points, respectively). In every other group — including “other faiths” (-12) and “religiously unaffiliated” (-2) — she did worse than the sitting president.

I haven’t seen an exit poll analysis that breaks down the Protestant vote into more categories. But consider that for all the pre-election attention paid to polls showing steady white evangelical support for Trump, it’s also true that white mainline Protestants consistently favored the Republican nominee (e.g., 50-39 in this July poll from Pew).

One easy takeaway is that Democrats need to reevaluate how they reach out to religious Americans, who are in numerical decline but will remain the vast majority of the electorate for at least the near future.

Meanwhile, I’m sure that I’ll keep pondering how the religious Americans most similar to me in belief and practice were so overwhelmingly in favor of Donald Trump, but other groups have plenty of pondering to do.

Finally, I’m too much of a historian to accept anything other than a multi-causal explanation for what happened Tuesday, but it’s hard to avoid the racial adjective that correlates so closely to support for Trump. So I hope that white Christians of all different backgrounds take time to contemplate the relationship between whiteness, faith, and politics, and that they listen especially closely to the voices of their sisters and brothers of color.

10 thoughts on “It’s Not Just Evangelicals…

  1. But do we know how many were actually voting against Mrs. Clinton rather than for Trump. Were we faced with the proverbial lesser of two evils. I believe there was great angst among Evangelicals over Mrs. Clinton’s position on many issues. This may not absolve us from some soul-searching but might it explain some of the results?
    And long before this election white evangelicals needed to more closely listen to the voices of our sisters and brothers of color. Hopefully this election will only serve as a strong kick in the butt for us to double our efforts in outreach.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Randy. I think those are certainly fair points. I’ll probably have more to say next week, but I should stop talking and do more listening and thinking for now.

  2. Do you think African-Americans, women, and Christians in LBGT circles need also to consider relations among race/gender/orientation, faith and politics? Or is this only something that whites need to do? If everyone was doing it, you’d have a point. But as things stand, the calls are generally for white soul searching. Everyone else is fine. Don’t you think that’s part of the reason for the so-called “white” lash. Lots of people in America seem to be able to hold onto their particular identities and be good Americans. But if whites do it, they’re bad Americans.

    Politics of identity was always going to catch up to itself.

    1. Darryl – I don’t think white Christian Trump voters are “bad Americans.” But for a variety of reasons (some of which I can understand), they did vote for a historically bad candidate, forcing many of them to violate their own stated criteria for political candidates in the process. And that certainly ought to prompt some soul searching. Do I think that Democrats ought to engage in their own agonizing reappraisal after nominating someone who couldn’t even beat Donald Trump? Absolutely. Should all citizens in a democracy seek to understand their neighbors? As you’ve noted before, I think highly (perhaps too much so) of empathy. But to use a terribly overused word, it’s the privilege of the majority to ignore the concerns of the minority; I don’t see that happening often in the other direction.

      1. Chris, what you don’t seem to factor is that Hillary Clinton was also a historically bad candidate. I am amazed at how quickly many evangelical historians have lost a sense of Richard Nixon. Do those who voted for her need to do some sort of soul searching about overlooking the same traits and antics that forced Nixon to resign?

        Once both sides admit that the other was having to overlook a lot of baggage, then maybe empathy emerges. But so far among evangelical academics (generally) the baggage is only on one side. Funny, you don’t need to be evangelical to have that outlook. Mainstream journalists agree.

    1. Chris, why interpret the vote as a rejection of women, minorities, and immigrants? I appreciate that you blog about your own communion and that you know people in the pews. But so far, you’re mirroring lots of analysis that only explains votes for Trump as anti-women, blacks, and immigrants. Forget empathy. Where’s the charity?

      1. As I’ve tried to say a few times here, I don’t interpret the vote *solely* in those terms. I think there are numerous factors in play here, including a general distrust of political institutions and the media, economic anxieties about trade and manufacturing, and (for many evangelicals, Catholics, Mormons, and conservative mainliners) fears about religious liberty and unborn life. I even share some of these concerns. But second, I don’t see how you can not interpret the result at least partly as a rejection of women, minorities, and immigrants — even if the voter himself or herself doesn’t share the misogyny, racism, and xenophobia of Trump’s rhetoric, he or she could apparently condone it (“lesser of two evils”). And Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon as his chief strategist doesn’t do anything to abate these fears. (If you don’t believe me, check out what the National Review had to say.)

      2. But Chris, surely you know that a vote for Reagan, Bush, McCain and Romney was a rejection of women, blacks, and minorities. That’s not just Jon Stewart’s world. I listen to NPR too.

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