Presidential election exposes evangelical divides

(LifeWay Research)

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)—Americans with evangelical beliefs share a great deal in common theologically. But when it comes to voting, race and political affiliation still divide evangelicals, according to a LifeWay Research survey taken before the second presidential debate.

evan voter overview 400Overall, fewer than half (45 percent) of Americans with evangelical beliefs who plan to vote say they support Donald Trump, the survey discovered. A third (31 percent) say they will vote for Hillary Clinton. Fifteen percent are undecided. One in 10 (9 percent) support a third-party candidate.

White Americans with evangelical beliefs favor Trump (65 percent) over Clinton (10 percent). Sixteen percent are undecided. Eight percent plan to vote for Gary Johnson.

African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and Asian-Americans with evangelical beliefs support Clinton (62 percent) over Trump (15 percent). Thirteen percent are undecided. Seven percent support Gary Johnson.

evang partyvoters 350LifeWay Research also found party affiliation is a much stronger predictor of voting preferences than faith. Three-quarters of Republicans with evangelical beliefs plan to vote for Trump. Although a smaller sample, 75 percent of Democrats with evangelical beliefs plan to vote for Clinton.

Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, said the divides among evangelicals will remain, regardless of twists and turns in the election season.

Shared theology, but not shared political views

“This group of Christians shares the same core beliefs, but they don’t vote the same way,” McConnell said. “There are significant cultural and political divides among evangelicals that will remain long after the election is over.”

The representative online survey asked 1,000 Americans four questions about core evangelical beliefs on the Bible, the crucifixion of Jesus, salvation and evangelism. Those who strongly agreed with all four (17 percent) qualified as having evangelical beliefs.

The idea is to define evangelicals by belief rather than self-identified religious affiliation, McConnell said.

“The evangelical label has picked up political and social overtones that mask any patterns that are actually tied to evangelical religious beliefs,” he said.

For example, many political surveys look only at self-identified white evangelicals, who have tended to support Republican presidential candidates, including Trump. The pool of Americans with evangelical beliefs, however, is more diverse. Four in 10 Americans with evangelical beliefs are African-American, Hispanic-American, Asian-American or other ethnic minority. Six in 10 are white. Those with evangelical beliefs also have more diverse political views, according to LifeWay Research.

Which issues matter?

evan importantissues 350As part of the survey, researchers looked at how people with evangelical beliefs and churchgoers see the issues at play in the 2016 election. Topics like personal character, abortion and religious liberty—often identified as key evangelical issues—matter less in this election. Other pragmatic concerns—like the economy and national security—are more influential.

For Americans with evangelical beliefs, a candidate’s ability to improve the economy matters most (26 percent), followed by national security (22 percent) and personal character (15 percent). Few emphasize Supreme Court nominees (10 percent), religious freedom (7 percent), immigration (5 percent) or abortion (4 percent).

For self-identified Christians who go to church at least once a month, the economy (30 percent), national security (23 percent) and personal character (15 percent) top their concerns. Few prioritize Supreme Court nominees (10 percent), religious freedom (6 percent), immigration (4 percent) or abortion (3 percent).

comparing importantissues 400Overall, the economy (30 percent) is the top concern for Americans, regardless of religious affiliation.

National security (17 percent) and personal character (17 percent) also are significant. Supreme Court nominees (10 percent), immigration (5 percent), religious freedom (2 percent) and abortion (1 percent) are less important.

Religion affects voting

Still, religion seems to affect voting patterns. Self-identified Christians who go to church at least once a month favor Trump (41 percent). A third (34 percent) plan to vote for Clinton. Eighteen percent are undecided. Six percent support a third-party candidate.

Americans who skip church are more likely to support Clinton (46 percent). A third (31 percent) plan to vote for Trump. Fifteen percent are undecided. Eight percent favor a third-party candidate.

Those without evangelical beliefs also favor Clinton (45 percent). Thirty-two percent plan to vote for Trump. Sixteen percent are undecided. Eight percent plan to vote for a third-party candidate.

No monopoly on biblical values

A previous LifeWay Research poll of Protestant pastors found most clergy don’t expect Christians to vote uniformly. Two-thirds (65 percent) disagree with the statement, “Christians who truly vote their conscience will vote for the same candidate.” Less than a third (29 percent) agree. Six percent are not sure.

Neither major party in the United States has a monopoly on biblical values, McConnell said. So, it’s no surprise evangelicals who value the Bible will vote differently, he observed.

“Until one party or one candidate embodies everything that evangelicals believe, there is no reason to expect them to vote the same way,” he said.

Still, McConnell worries the polarizing rhetoric of the 2016 election will spill over into churches. The Christian faith is supposed to unite people “from every nation, tribe, people and language around Jesus Christ, not a politician,” said McConnell, citing the New Testament book of Revelation.

“Christianity includes peoples from different political parties as well,” he said. “Sometimes, I think evangelicals forget that.”

LifeWay Research conducted the study Sept. 27 to Oct. 1 using the web-enabled KnowledgePanel, a probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population.

Initially, participants are chosen scientifically by a random selection of telephone numbers and residential addresses. People in selected households then are invited by telephone or by mail to participate in the web-enabled KnowledgePanel. For those who agreed to participate but did not already have Internet access, GfK provided at no cost a laptop and Internet connection.

Analysts used sample stratification and weights for gender by age, race/ethnicity, region, metro/non-metro, education and income to reflect the most recent U.S. Census data. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys, providing 95 percent confidence the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.1 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.


We seek to inform, inspire and challenge you to live like Jesus. Click to learn more about Following Jesus.

If we achieved our goal—or didn’t—we’d love to hear from you. Send an email to Eric Black, our editor. Maximum length for publication is 250 words.

More from Baptist Standard


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email