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Why evangelical voters continue to support Trump

Evangelicals overwhelmingly supported former President Donald Trump in 2016 and again in 2020. And there seems to be more of the same this year.
Why evangelical voters continue to support Trump
Posted at 3:33 PM, Mar 04, 2024

Former President Donald Trump is making a direct appeal to Republican Christian voters. "No one will be touching the cross of Christ under the Trump administration. I swear to you," he told the crowd at the recent National Religious Broadcasters Conference. 

Evangelicals overwhelmingly supported the former president in 2016 and again in 2020. And there seems to be more of the same this year. 

According to CNN exit polls of the South Carolina Primary, 71% of White born-again or evangelical Christians supported Trump; 70% lent support in New Hampshire, and 53% in the Iowa caucuses.

"We're 100% behind Donald Trump and want to see America great again," Vicky Fukes of Delaware told Scripps News at the 2024 Conservative Political Action Conference. 

In 2016, abortion, the Supreme Court and support for Israel led many evangelicals to support the former president — this time they say it's immigration, his track record and a battle of so-called good vs. evil.

"One nation under God. That's the way it's got to remain," said Fukes. 

"It's not just political, it's a spiritual sickness that's really taken root in this country," said Christian Baldwin of Maryland. 

Baldwin believes a second Trump victory would be part of divine providence, and that President Biden's 2020 win was a warning. 

"Perhaps, what we're experiencing is just a way for God to remind us what our true purpose is," he explained.  

There's a scripture in the biblical Book of Romans that alludes to the idea that those in authority have been placed there by God. The question is how much that notion will impact voters.

"That's never been understood in Christian theology to mean, OK, whatever the political authority says is right," explained Jay Richards, director of the DeVos Center for Life, Religion, and Family at the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation.

"Among American evangelicals in particular, there is a tendency to to invest Divine Providence and attribute Divine Providence to political candidates. And I think that's certainly been true with Donald Trump," he continued. 

Richards says it was a relationship that started with acknowledgment, although some may have been skeptical at first. 

"[Trump] dignified evangelicals by speaking directly to them and saying 'I've got your back,' and he really did that. He seemed to genuinely care," Richards explained. 

Trump is often compared to flawed but important Biblical characters who weren't morally perfect but advanced God's will.

"It was pretty common during the 2016 and 2020 elections for Christians who were supportive of Trump to point to Cyrus, a king who was not part of Israel, not a part of the people of God, and say, look, he acted on behalf of the people of God, and God blesses him because of that," said Kaitlyn Schiess, author of "The Ballot and the Bible." 

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The "chosen one" idea is  a theme seen in recent ads shared by the former president, and in ads challenging the very idea. 

Schiess travels the country, using history to inspire Christians to look deeply into the ways Scripture informs their politics, and not the other way around.

"We tend to cherry-pick. We pick verses that kind of meet our political purposes. It's a lot harder for Christians especially, to look at Scripture and say, what might this be saying to me in this moment? I'm open to hearing something that might go against my interest," she suggested. 

That's because biblical interpretation is a peculiar thing ... especially when it comes to politics.

"Abraham Lincoln even noted this where he said we read the same Bible, we pray to the same God, and yet we are coming to very different conclusions about the most pressing moral and political questions of our day," said Schiess. 

According to Pew Research, Trump garnered 84% of the White Evangelical vote in 2020.

White Catholics were split, with 57% supporting Trump. Black Protestants however, overwhelmingly backed President Biden at 91%. 

"It's much more complicated among African American Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, who have tended to have different experience and so very often associate certain biblical passages and their theology and politics. They tend to think about the plight of the marginalized.

And so that tends to figure much more prominently in their voting," explained Richards. 

"It's not that one side is saying theology matters to my politics and the other one doesn't. It tends to be just a different emphasis and sort of how you rank these things," he continued. 

But that's a notion blasted by the former president, who said the idea of Christians voting Democrat is "crazy."

There's also a fear by some that a push for all Christian-based policies could lead to Christian nationalism, an idea currently rejected by most Americans.

Schiess says removing faith from politics would erase important moments in history motivated by faith, like the Civil Rights movement, but cautions fellow Christians to avoid an "us vs. them" mentality.

"When we say me and my Bible are the ones that determine how this community should run, not me and my Bible joining a community of people with a diverse set of beliefs and dialoguing together about what our human community should look like, that's when I think we've gone really wrong," said Schiess. 

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