The rise of Donald Trump as a serious candidate for the presidency is curious enough but add in the fact that he appears to be playing well among Evangelical voters, and I have an even harder time trying to wrap my mind around his rise.
Mr. Trump is not what one thinks about when one thinks about Evangelicals. His business practices, support for casino gambling, objectification of women, he is divorced (twice), and he is a supporter of LGBTQ rights. He is not on the Evangelical side of any of these issues, yet they are turning out in droves to support him. Is it because he “speaks his mind?” Is it because they are angry with the establishment? Like many others, I have been trying to figure this all out.
Paul Matzko, a graduate student in American religious history at Penn State and he has recently posted an essay on his blog that offers up a rather concise explanation of what is happening. He is making the claim that the Evangelicals voting for Trump are “self-described” Evangelicals and not necessarily Church going Evangelicals. Although long and sometimes confusing, this is a great explanation of what Matzko is calling “Trumpangelicalism”
Here is a little snapshot of the essay.
It’s certainly true, as others have noted, that although Trump has won a plurality of evangelical voters in multiple states, a majority have opted for other candidates. And there’s a slight but significant negative correlation between religiosity and support for Trump. In short, Trump wins among evangelicals because he’s winning, period, but he under-performs with evangelicals compared to how well he does with non-evangelical voters. That said, I’m not sure we can just dismiss the fact that a third of evangelicals in, for example, South Carolina have voted for Trump. They certainly aren’t doing so because of their admiration for Trump’s business practices or the depth of his religious commitment.
However, when you dig a little deeper into the data, a telling pattern emerges. Trump does well among self-described evangelicals, but not nearly so well with evangelicals who attend church. I’m not the first to notice that pattern–J.D. Vance’s article sparked the thought for me–but since no one has yet visually illustrated the point, I thought I’d do so with these side-by-side maps.
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