There is no doubt the evangelical community was slow to warm up to the candidacy of Donald Trump. Many were privately skeptical and some were openly hostile. I confess to being one of the early skeptics.
But in June Trump agreed to meet with evangelical leaders after Dr. Ben Carson convinced him of the importance of reaching out to the evangelical community. That meeting was hastily put together in just four weeks, yet over a thousand evangelicals, including me, traveled to New York City to meet with Mr. Trump. It was an historic gathering of the evangelical community with a presidential candidate. I wrote about it in an earlier blog. (Trump Shares Evangelical Values)
The fruits of that meeting are still being reaped as the support of evangelicals for Trump grows, according to the most recent surveys of Dr. George Barna. Barna tracks the opinions of people he calls “SAGE Cons”, those evangelicals who closely follow politics and government. He says these people have been closely following the election since before the primaries. By the first primaries, 85% of them were fully engaged in the process.
In a January survey of these individuals, only 11% were supporters of Trump. But in the last eight months there has been quite a change. Since it became clear Trump would be the nominee, 70% said they would vote for Trump in a match-up with Hillary Clinton. After the Republican convention, that number climbed to 84%.
Interestingly, the surveys show that most of this last increase has come from those who previously thought they would support a third party candidate rather than Trump. Now only 8% of this group plans to support third party candidates like Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, or others, 3% plan to avoid any vote for a presidential candidate and 4% remain undecided. Hillary Clinton has never garnered more than 2% support of these politically involved Christians and her support is dropping.
Barna says evangelicals are making up their minds earlier than ever, despite their early reluctance to support Trump. But this elections cycle has been different. Barna says, “This is a segment of the population, representing roughly one out of every eight votes in a presidential election, who are deeply aware of the importance of these elections. They know that what happens in government affects people’s lives in dramatic ways. Consequently, they pay attention early and stay engaged for the duration of the campaign.”
Barna does not expect to see big changes in the support levels for Mr. Trump from SAGE Cons over the next eight weeks. “We have been anticipating him landing in the 80% to 85% range by the end of the race. The candidate of choice among Christian conservatives has averaged 84% of their vote over the last four presidential elections, and we expect him to wind up in that same range. Christian conservatives have become more comfortable with him – and increasingly less comfortable with Mrs. Clinton – as the campaign has progressed. The third-party candidates do not satisfy the interests of most SAGE Cons on the key issues and will therefore be unlikely to draw more than 7% of the SAGE Con vote.”
Though the support for Trump is growing, there is still concern for the impact his candidacy will have on so-called down ballot elections that determine the makeup of the Senate and the House. This will be key to Republicans remaining in control of Congress, an important check and balance regardless of who wins the presidential contest.
For more information on these and other issues that impact the Christian community, the work of Dr. Barna can be seen at www.culturefaith.com.