White Evangelicals Keep Standing Up for Their (Grand Old) Party

Evangelical minister Andrew Brunson prays with, or at least in the vicinity of, Donald Trump in the Oval Office shortly after the administration secured his release from Turkish captivity. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

One of the more remarkable phenomena in contemporary U.S. politics is the fidelity of white Evangelical voters to the Republican Party, despite (or even, some say, because of) its heathenish present leader. A look at the 2018 exit polls (not perfect, of course, but significant nonetheless) shows that hasn’t much changed.

For one thing, it seems this voting bloc faithfully shows up at the polls in all kinds of political weather; white Evangelicals were an identical 26 percent of the electorate in 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018. Their support level for Republicans is uniformly high, but does vary somewhat according to the overall results of a given election. In U.S. House races, white Evangelicals were reported to have given Republicans 78 percent in the strong pro-GOP midterm election of 2014, and a lower 75 percent in the strong pro-Democratic midterm of 2018. In 2016, a very close race in which white Evangelical leaders were outspokenly pro-GOP, their rank and file gave Donald Trump 80 percent, and Republican House candidates an amazing 84 percent.

The perception that white Evangelicals are especially happy with Trump was reinforced by their voting behavior in some of the key 2018 Senate races where POTUS was heavily involved. In Indiana, where Trump campaigned twice during the last week of the midterms (alongside his conspicuously Evangelical Hoosier vice-president Mike Pence), white Evangelicals rose from 39 percent of the electorate in 2016 to 41 percent, and gave GOP Senate nominee Mike Braun 72 percent of their vote (three points higher than winning Republican candidate Todd Young in 2016). Braun won. In Missouri, Trump also made a late appearance for GOP Senate candidate Josh Hawley. The percentage of the electorate represented by white Evangelicals rose from 35 percent to 38 percent, and Hawley got 75 percent of it, a higher percentage than winning GOP candidate Roy Blunt in 2016. In Florida, Trump campaigned for Senate candidate Rick Scott and gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis. The white Evangelical share of the vote there rose by an amazing nine points, from 20 percent in 2016 to 29 percent this year. Scott won 80 percent of this elevated vote, and DeSantis won 77 percent (not quite as much as the otherworldly 84 percent won by Marco Rubio — a particular Evangelical favorite — during his easy 2016 win, but still an impressive showing).

In some states white Evangelicals were already so wildly pro-Republican in 2016 that matching or beating their performance in that landmark year was a nearly impossible goal. In Georgia’s very close gubernatorial election, white Evangelicals represented just over a third of the electorate, and gave 88 percent to Brian Kemp — four points less than the 92 percent Trump won in that demographic in 2016. In Texas’s very close Senate race, where white Evangelicals were just over a fourth of the electorate, Ted Cruz got 81 percent of this vote — again, four points less than Trump’s 85 percent in 2016. These are all astounding numbers for a group of people that spans every income and educational level, and a lot of religious denominational differences as well.

Perhaps the best way to capture the impact of white Evangelical Republicanism is to look at the partisan leanings of the rest of the electorate. In the 2014 midterms — again, a solid Republican year — non–white Evangelicals, representing nearly three-fourths of the electorate, went Democratic by a 55/43 margin. In the 2016 presidential election, non–white Evangelicals went for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump 60/34. And in the election that just occurred, Democrats won the three-fourths of the electorate that is outside the white Evangelical ranks — including all Catholics, Jews, Eastern Orthodox Christians, African-American Christians, mainline Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists and the nonreligious — by a 66/32 margin. The extent to which this involves an Evangelical/non-Evangelical split, instead of one (as Evangelical leaders often claim) that is strictly between the religious and the irreligious, can be illustrated by a fascinating exit-poll finding from the Georgia governor’s race. Among Georgia voters who say they attend religious services “monthly or more,” Kemp led Abrams by a single point, 50/49. Among those who say they attend religious services less than monthly (or not at all), Abrams led by two points, 50/48.

On electoral Tuesdays more than church-service Sundays, white Evangelicals live in their own world, and Donald Trump and his allies rule it.

White Evangelicals Standing Up for Their (Grand Old) Party