A few months ago, I worked with LifeWay Research and the National Association of Evangelicals to help create a tool that looked at evangelical beliefs. We explained:
Surveys that focus on white evangelicals shape the way our non-evangelical neighbors see evangelical believers. So they often perceive us primarily as political adversaries or allies, rather than people primarily motivated by beliefs.
But our new definition shows that when we examine them by what they actually believe, American evangelicals are quite diverse.
In this NAE-approved research-based definition, an Evangelical is someone who strongly agrees with these four statements:
- The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe.
- It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.
- Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.
- Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.
So, as we look at evangelicals by belief, not just “white evangelicals” (who are overwhelmingly for Donald Trump), we find a very different story.
LifeWay Research conducted a survey before the second presidential debate (Sunday, October 9).
Bob Smietana, senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine, notes:
Overall, less than half (45 percent) of likely voters with evangelical beliefs plan to vote for Donald Trump, according to the survey. A third (31 percent) support 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.
Three-quarters of Republicans with evangelical beliefs plan to vote for Trump. Though a smaller sample, 75 percent of Democrats with evangelical beliefs plan to vote for Clinton.
The survey also found:
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 value Supreme Court nominees (10 percent), religious freedom (7 percent), immigration (5 percent), or abortion (4 percent).
Simply put, when you hear “evangelicals are voting for Trump,” remember that pollsters mean “white evangelicals” when they say “evangelical.” When looking at people who hold evangelical beliefs, the patterns are quite different.
I’ll be unpacking more at the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and plan to blog again on it in the near future.