White Evangelicals Grade Trump, Republicans, and the Media
In one of the first surveys after the 2016 presidential election, the Pew Research Center asked voters to weigh in on what grade Donald Trump (and others) should receive, what he should do first, and whether they will give him a chance to succeed.
Among white evangelicals voters—one of Trump’s strongest demographics—one in five (20%) graded the president-elect’s conduct during the campaign at an A, while a plurality (31%) gave him a B, according to new Pew Research Center data provided to CT.
Meanwhile, more than a quarter of white evangelical voters gave him a failing grade of a D or F. Trump’s overall campaign grade is the lowest among any presidential candidate—winning or losing—since Pew began collecting data in 1988.
“It’s important to note that white evangelicals, like so many voters this year, had significant reservations about both candidates,” said Amy Black, professor of political science at Wheaton College. “Although evangelicals were more satisfied with Donald Trump than other groups, half of them gave Trump a grade of C or lower, and 18 percent gave him an F. Those are not exactly good grades.”
The divide among evangelicals who supported or opposed Trump has forced a conversation on how the church can build unity going into his presidency, whether evangelicals should part ways, and whether the label evangelical should be retained. (Hundreds of pastors told CT Pastors what they are doing about the term.)
Pew found that 39 percent of Protestant voters “can’t see [themselves] giving Trump a chance because of the kind of person he has shown himself to be.” But 60 percent said they are willing to give him a chance and “see how he governs.” Trump identifies as a Protestant—a Presbyterian—and last Sunday, he attended a Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation in New Jersey with vice president-elect Mike Pence.
After the election, white evangelicals gave the conduct of the Republican Party mixed reviews, with 38 percent grading it an A or B; 32 percent grading it a C; and 30 percent grading it a D or F. White evangelicals were even more critical of the Democratic Party, with 63 percent giving it a failing grade.
White evangelicals indicated the most frustration toward the press, pollsters, and the Democratic Party, giving each a lower grade than their fellow Christians or American voters overall did. Nearly half of white evangelical voters (49%) gave the press the worst grade, an F. A plurality of Americans (38%) agreed, with many blaming the media “bubble” for coverage that failed to capture the likelihood of a Trump win.
“When you look for gaps in the data, you see white evangelicals breaking differently than other groups on assessment of parties and other institutions, priorities, and so on,” said Calvin College political science professor Kevin den Dulk in an email to CT.
“For example, the gap among voting blocs that gave a B or better to the Republicans versus the Democrats was greater among white evangelicals than all other religious groups and all voters, as reported in these data,” he wrote. “This suggests that the pull of partisan loyalty was strongest among white evangelicals compared to other religious groups.”
Earlier in the year, Pew found that white evangelicals’ presidential picks were more determined by distaste for an opposing candidate than support for their selection. Across demographics, respondents in the new survey were mostly split over whether or not they were satisfied with the choice of candidates in the 2016 race.
Among white evangelicals who voted in the election, only one-third (31%) said they were “very satisfied” with the options for president, while 27 percent were “fairly satisfied.” Meanwhile, 40 percent said they were not satisfied.
Amid the racial tension surrounding Trump’s election and administration appointments, Pew also asked voters about their confidence in his ability to unite the country. Among white evangelical voters, 39 percent believe Trump’s leadership will improve race relations, while 21 percent believe it will worsen them. Among all voters, 25 percent believe relations will improve, while 46 percent believe relations will worsen.
When asked what should be Trump’s first priority as president, white evangelical voters most often picked health care (31%), immigration (13%), the economy (11%), and unemployment (10%). Those topic also rank as the top three priorities for American voters overall, with 20 percent of voters listing health care as priority No. 1.
“All blocs put health care at the top of their priority list, but I’m intrigued that white evangelicals tend to report that priority significantly more than other groups,” den Dulk said. “I suspect if the option they were given included ‘Obamacare’ in the prompt, evangelicals were responding in a partisan way against the name as much as for the priority.”
In the same survey, Pew found that, as in the past few elections, campaign talk mostly stayed out of churches. Among voters who attend services at least monthly, only 16 percent of white evangelicals, 22 percent of Catholics, and 5 percent of white mainline Protestants said that their churches provided information on voting, the election, or specific candidates this year.
While the evangelical figure has stayed flat since 2008, the number of Catholic churches offering election information has steadily increased. The high point was the 2004 election, when 34 percent of churchgoing white evangelicals, 31 percent of Catholics, and 27 percent of white mainline Protestants said their churches provided election information.
Surveys conducted over the summer similarly found that only 1 in 10 churchgoers heard their pastor discuss the candidates.
This year, only a small minority of churchgoing voters—4 percent of Protestants and 8 percent of Catholics—said their pastor or priest encouraged them to vote a certain way. Meanwhile, only 6 percent of voters overall said they were contacted by a religious organization about the election.