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By Ryan P. Burge, Eastern Illinois University
In a previous post, I noted that Donald Trump received 75% of the white evangelical vote in the 2016 presidential election. That vote share was the most concentrated of any of the major religious traditions in the United States. That begs an interesting follow-up question: who are the evangelicals who did not cast their ballot for the Republican nominee?
The data used here are from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, which contains responses from nearly 65,000 respondents. In total, there were 8,503 evangelical respondents using the “reltrad” classification scheme which is based on with what denomination the church an individual attends is affiliated. This number only includes only white evangelicals. What is especially helpful about this dataset is that the number of evangelicals who did not vote for Donald Trump is sufficiently large (2,546 respondents) to allow for some reasonable generalizations to be made about the group.
Both evangelical men and women showed strong support for Trump. 78% of males voted for the Republican, which is just slightly more than the 73.9% of women who cast their ballots for him. The strong support among women is a significant departure from the larger electorate. In exit polls of the entire electorate, Clinton received 54% of the women’s vote, but for evangelical women it was just 21.6%.
Trump’s voters were, on average, 2.9 years older than Clinton’s voting counterparts. While the highest concentrations of voters for both Trump and other candidates clustered around the early 60’s among evangelicals, there is a noticeable bump in evangelical Clinton voters from 25-40 years old. In contrast, the Trump voter age distribution looks essentially normal. In CNN exit polls, they found that Trump did better with voters over the age of 45 and the pattern among evangelicals looks similar.
In the days after the presidential election, Nate Silver of 538.com wrote, “Education, Not Income, Predicted Who Would Vote for Trump.” The same pattern is somewhat evident here, although the magnitude is significantly muted. Trump did very well among “poorly educated” evangelicals. In fact, 42% of all evangelical votes for Trump came from those with a high school diploma or less. What may be the most important observation is the lack of change in Trump’s share between those who didn’t graduate high school (61.9%) and those who had a four year college degree (59.1%). There is only a noticeable drop in his share among evangelicals with a graduate degree, where he still enjoyed 52.7% of the vote.
In March of 2016, Geoffrey Layman argued, “Trump does best among evangelicals with one key trait: They don’t really go to church.” His argument was grounded in data taken from the National Election Study which indicated that faithful attenders were stronger supporters of Ted Cruz, a conservative with evangelical bona fides, than the infrequent church attending Trump. The results from the CCES provide a clear and contrary message. Frequent attending evangelicals warmed up to Trump during the general campaign. In fact, Trump’s strongest levels of support came from those attending church at least weekly. According to these results, Trump beat Clinton by 41 points among those who attend an evangelical church the most. In contrast, among evangelicals who never attend, the margin between the candidates shrunk to 11 points. The fact that infrequent attenders would look different politically than those who frequently attend is not new to political science; in fact there is a great deal of research to reinforce this claim. Previous work by Huckeldt et al. concluded that individuals who were pro-choice but were affiliated with pro-life parishes were less likely to attend church regularly. Forthcoming work by Djupe, Neiheisel, and Sokhey finds that political disagreement in churches, whether on the left or right, is driving out marginal attenders (Note 1).
Looked at broadly, Trump’s evangelical coalition was strong. He did particularly well with both men and women, older voters, evangelicals with a variety of educational backgrounds, and those who attended church more frequently. This is not to say that (all) evangelical leaders are pleased with the way the laity justified their choice of Donald Trump. Ed Stetzer, a prominent evangelical leader, posted an article a few days before the election entitled, “Evangelicals: This Is What It Looks Like When You Sell Your Soul For A Bowl Of Trump.” He bemoaned the fact that evangelicals had justified Trump’s actions in order to explain their votes. In just the last week, the Southern Baptist Convention’s leadership has contemplated terminating the employment of Russell Moore, a highly visible critic of Donald Trump on social media. It will be interesting to see if the fallout from this election will create fractures in the evangelical coalition, (Note 2) or if the line between conservative politics and conservative Christianity will continue to dissolve.
- Djupe, Paul A., Jacob R. Neiheisel, and Anand E. Sokhey. Forthcoming. “The Role of Politics in Leaving Religion – The Importance of Congregational Context.” American Journal of Political Science. DOI:10.1111/ajps.12308
- For further discussion, see: Djupe, Paul A. and Ryan L. Claassen, editors. Forthcoming, 2017. The Evangelical Crackup? The Future of the Evangelical-Republican Coalition. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.