If the election were held today, 82 percent of white evangelicals said they would vote for Trump or lean toward voting for him, while 17 percent would support Democrat Joe Biden, according to the Pew survey.
Pew’s analysis of 2016 early exit polls found that 81 percent of white evangelicals said they voted for Trump, and they regularly voice their approval of what Trump has done on issues related to antiabortion rights, his picks of Supreme Court justices and his support for their religious freedom. White evangelicals also make up the largest religious group in the country, representing about a quarter of the electorate.
In early June, former White House press secretary Sean Spicer asked Trump if he has “grown in his faith” during his time in office. The president responded, “So I think maybe I have, from the standpoint that I see so much that I can do. I’ve done so much for religion.”
Throughout his administration, Trump has prioritized the concerns of white evangelical leaders, and recent Supreme Court decisions on abortion and LGBT rights are reportedly seen by the White House as an opening for shoring up support for him.
“We know it’s not about Trump’s piety or his devotion,” said Gerardo Martí, a sociologist at Davidson College and author of “American Blindspot,” about race, class, religion and the Trump presidency. “It’s about his policies and how he has opened the door to the White House.”
Since his inauguration in 2017, Trump’s favorability among white evangelicals has remained between 72 and 79 percent, data from Pew shows. Trump’s 72 percent approval rating among white evangelical Protestants ties a record low across 13 similar surveys Pew conducted since Trump entered office and is the lowest since August 2017; he’s still just slightly below his average of 76 percent.
Recent protests across the country have focused largely on issues such as police brutality. A large majority of white evangelicals said in a 2017 Pew survey that police are “excellent” or do a “good” job of protecting people. Vice President Pence, an evangelical, has resisted saying the phrase “black lives matter,” saying the organization Black Lives Matter has a “radical left agenda.”
Meanwhile, white evangelicals have long expressed fear that Democrats could strip away their rights.
“If [white evangelicals] acknowledged black lives matter, they’d have to re-center their victimization,” Martí said. “It would crater their base of identity. They would have to reread American history, reexamine who should be highlighted, whose voices should matter. It adds to the polarization.”
Pew’s new survey appears to suggest that Trump’s handling of the novel coronavirus has pushed his support down, as Biden is now supported by 54 percent of U.S. voters compared with Trump’s 44 percent.
Dean Inserra, the Southern Baptist pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, which usually attracts about 1,500 people, said he believes that a higher number of white evangelicals who were hesitant to vote for Trump are now planning to vote for him this year. Although many of them do not have the same distaste for Biden that they had for 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Inserra said they are afraid that the Democratic Party is headed toward socialism with lawmakers such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).
Many white evangelicals, Inserra said, are also concerned over what they see as “cancel culture,” where someone might be boycotted after sharing a controversial opinion.
He said many of them expressed alarm after a megachurch in Birmingham, Ala., recently lost a partnership with a local housing authority where the church was providing social services. The vote to end the partnership came after the pastor of Church of the Highlands, Chris Hodges, liked social media posts by Charlie Kirk, president of the conservative nonprofit Turning Point USA. Hodges later apologized.
Inserra said if something like that could happen in a state with such a high percentage of evangelicals, it could happen anywhere in the United States.
“Some think that a vote for Trump is a Christian vote, that it means they’re voting against abortion or they’re happy with the Supreme Court. It’s the ends justifies the means,” he said. For others, Trump “represents a defender of their way of life. He’s the representation of someone who’s on their side.”
Pew found Trump’s drop in approval among white evangelicals was similar among those younger than age 50 and older white evangelicals. By contrast, Trump’s recent decline in approval among the public overall was concentrated among younger Americans.
Trump’s slip in approval among white evangelicals mirrors a seven-point decline in approval among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, from 85 percent in March to 78 percent today. Analysis by Pew found this decline was driven about equally by Republicans who are white evangelical Protestants as well as other Republicans.
The Pew survey was conducted after Trump’s June 1 visit to St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, where he held up a Bible for a photo op one day after a fire at the church, as well as the Supreme Court’s June 15 ruling that LGBT workers are protected under anti-discrimination laws.
In the same survey, 56 percent of white Protestants who do not identify as evangelical and 54 percent of white Catholics said they approve of Trump’s job performance. Roughly 6 in 10 say they would vote for him.
However, large majorities of black Protestants (83 percent), Hispanic Catholics (74 percent) and religiously unaffiliated voters (74 percent) say they disapprove of Trump, according to the survey.
Among black Protestant voters, just 8 percent say they would vote for Trump if the election were held today, while 88 percent would vote for Biden, the survey found.
Scott Clement contributed to this report.