From the first moments of his presidency, Donald Trump has delivered victories for the white evangelical voters who helped him win his office. Eighty percent of evangelical voters supported Trump, according to exit polls, a higher percentage than any other recent Republican. In return, he’s given them what many of them have wanted: specific endorsement of priorities such as “religious liberty” policies and opposition to abortion and birth control — and a willingness to engage more broadly for their side in the American culture war.
“Barack Obama used the bully pulpit and the courts to demonize those who held to the very values that made America great,” the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins told Politico’s Tim Alberta. “And Trump is doing the opposite.”
That Trump is delivering for voters who backed him isn’t surprising, given what we’ve seen from Trump’s presidency. But it’s interesting to consider that they did endorse him so heavily, given how reticent many evangelical voters were during the Republican primaries.
CNN polled frequently during the 2016 Republican primary and broke out support for each of the candidates to include those who identified as evangelical. Support for Trump spiked among Republican voters in the middle of July 2015 as his battle against the businesses and celebrities who opposed his statements about immigrants from Mexico gained him staunch adherents. Trump held that lead over the next nine months, winning the party’s nomination.
But if we compare how he fared with evangelicals to how he fared with Republican voters overall, some subtle differences appear.
We can see those differences more clearly if we look at a line graph.
Among all Republicans, Trump held a steady lead, although Ben Carson nearly caught up with him in fall 2015. Only near the end of the campaign did Ted Cruz and John Kasich gain ground — in part a function of how the field had narrowed.
Among evangelicals, though, the race looked different. Carson actually passed Trump in one CNN poll; when he faded, Cruz ran nearly even with Trump.
The difference, animated:
Evangelicals were consistently more inclined to support Carson and Cruz than the Republican voting base overall in each poll CNN conducted. At times, evangelical support for Trump was also higher than the Republican voter base overall, but not consistently.
What happened? How did evangelicals learn to stop worrying and love Donald Trump? One key reason is one that many other Trump supporters shared: He wasn’t Hillary Clinton.
As far as Trump is concerned, it doesn’t really matter. At his victory rally in Des Moines in December, Trump didn’t mince words.
“I’ll tell you where we really did well,” he said, “an all-time world record, not even close: Evangelicals!”
“I love you!” he added. After he was inaugurated on Jan. 20, he went on to prove it.