July 21, 2016

Churchgoing Republicans, once skeptical of Trump, now support him

As Donald Trump accepts the GOP’s presidential nomination during a sometimes contentious convention, some have wondered whether he will be able to bridge the party’s primary divides by Election Day. But recent Pew Research Center studies find that while many GOP voters – especially regular churchgoers – were skeptical of Trump even as late as April 2016, well into primary season, most are now ready to support him in the general election.

An analysis of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters at three points over a roughly five month period shows that by April, Trump was the preferred nominee of just 34% of those who attend religious services weekly, including 15% who had been steady supporters (i.e., had consistently supported him across the three separate surveys in December 2015, March 2016 and April 2016). Two-thirds of regular churchgoing Republicans were not supporting Trump for the GOP nomination even in April. This includes 57% who were Trump “skeptics,” having not expressed support for Trump as the GOP nominee in any of the three surveys conducted mainly online among participants in the Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel between December and April.

Trump received much more support during the GOP primaries from Republicans who do not attend religious services every week; half of this group was in Trump’s corner by April, including 28% who had steadily supported him throughout the primaries.

But while churchgoing Republicans were particularly skeptical of Trump during the primaries, they are firmly in his corner now that the general election campaign is underway. Indeed, in a June 2016 telephone survey, churchgoing GOP voters were as supportive of Trump in the general election as Republicans who attend religious services less than once a week. Nearly nine-in-ten GOP registered voters who attend religious services weekly say they would vote for Trump over Clinton if the election were held today, including 40% who say they would “strongly” support Trump in the general election. Among GOP voters who attend less regularly, 84% say they would back Trump if the election were today, including 41% who support him “strongly.”

Beyond church attendance, the Center’s analysis of GOP voters’ primary preferences shows that evangelicals were among those most skeptical of Trump throughout the primaries, with 50% of white evangelical Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters (and 44% of white mainline Protestants) not having backed him as the party’s nominee during primary season. More than six-in-ten Republican Catholics and religious “nones” had supported Trump at one time or another in late 2015 or early 2016.

But headed into the general election, Republican evangelicals are now among Trump’s strongest supporters. In the June telephone poll, fully 94% of GOP evangelicals say they would vote for Trump over Clinton if the election were held today, as do 88% of white mainline Protestants and 81% of Republican Catholics.

Note: This post was revised Nov. 2, 2016, to include updated data in categorizing white Protestants into the “white evangelical Protestant” and “white mainline Protestant” categories. Originally, the post relied partly on data from a previous wave of the American Trends Panel to make these categorizations.

Topics: Religion and U.S. Politics, Voter Demographics, 2016 Election

  1. Photo of Gregory A. Smith

    is an associate director of research at Pew Research Center.


  1. Tim Frenchko12 months ago

    If the GOP are for “smaller government” why doesn’t the evangelicals do more for human rights than they do?

  2. Steven Barrett1 year ago

    Thrice-married Trump. Just mull that over folks. Earlier today I saw a story about some megachurch minister, herself a three time aisle walker, backing this guy. What does that say? Don’t some of these people have any standards to which they are willing to draw a line and say, “No way!” to … or is it all some false siren call to an even more bogus and packaged form of conservative ideology they’re answering to? Doe Hillary Clinton, a practicing Methodist, really promote “increasing hostility towards Christianity”? Name one instance where Hillary Clinton has gone directly against Christianity as a whole? Yes, she’s made her opposition to Catholicism’s teachings on birth control and abortion quite clear. But where has she officially gone out of her way to villify Catholics and their Church? Just because the woman doesn’t agree with your or my particular church’s teachings it doesn’t make her “anti-Christian,” thus fodder for the demonizers who never saw a misunderstanding they didn’t like or couldn’t wait to blow out of proportion even more than what they think they heard from some “reliable source.” If that source was “Fox News,” you might want to re-think what you mean by “reliable” given its tendencies to lie and manipulate facts to suit its own purposes much the same way the DNC under its just (and rightly dismissed) former chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz did to Bernie Sanders, whom the DNC’s Bradley Marshall tried to smear as an atheist in the South to his fellow Baptists. Some “Christian.” BTW, we’ve had some atheists elected to the White House before, both Republicans, and one of them turned out to be a pretty good choice and eventually became very close to God: Abraham Lincoln. JFK, a regular Mass-going first Catholic elected to the Presidency was said to be a “lousy Catholic” no less by his widow Jackie. She was right.
    Of all the commenters here, Max Furr provides the best wrap up.
    Max, I love this description of Trump, the guy who’s gone on record as never asking for the Lord’s forgiveness, ” . . . I think there is an obvious link between Trump’s rhetoric and the Bible. In my opinion, Trump reflects the narcissistic and sociopathic nature of the Old Testament god, as well as “His” insufficient understanding the nature of civility and justice.”
    Perhaps if Trump actually had [some] grasp of “the nature of civility and justice” he’d be one his begging knees every night he allowed the thuggery in his campaign to continue unabated all because he was too stubbornly pride-bound and egotistically driven to allow whatever, do whatever, say whatever . . . to get what he wants.
    Come to think about it, one of the most Christ-like ads I’ve ever seen produced by a politician is that of Hillary Clinton’s taking down of Trump lately for his boasting about shooting people, trash-talking of women and the disabled, etc.
    Hey all the defenders of Trump’s evangelical supporters, where in the Bible, in both Testaments, does the Lord approve of any leader pulling that kind of nonsense?

  3. Kent Forrest1 year ago

    Many people both Left and Right are voting not for the candidate but the resulting SCOTUS appointments and the effect it will have on future history. The Right in particular can “live” with Trump if they can restore their interpretation of marriage, abortion, and LGBTQ legality. Many people on the Left evidently can’t see that issue clearly and that is why Trump has a very real chance of winning this election. (Sadly)

  4. Thomas J Moore1 year ago

    I would be more curious about how many church going republicans are supporting him because they hate Hillary and Obama…

  5. Anonymous1 year ago

    People in the pews are well aware that we live in a sinful world. While they have a high view of what we are called to be, they are also aware of how fallen we are. Trump is far from an ideal candidate but church-goers know that politics produces flawed results. The alternative is a candidate who promotes increasing hostility toward Christianity.

  6. Anonymous1 year ago

    This is what I have a problem with…youtu.be/bp73zbYwaqw
    Trump telling the world on C Span that he hasn’t/doesn’t confess his sins’

  7. Max T. Furr1 year ago

    This is a rather strongly worded opinion on why the Christian right is lining up behind Trump, but no more strongly worded than Donald Trump’s–and many conservative candidate’–own rhetoric.

    I think there is an obvious link between Trump’s rhetoric and the Bible. In my opinion, Trump reflects the narcissistic and sociopathic nature of the Old Testament god, as well as “His” insufficient understanding the nature of civility and justice.

    Too, the conservative leadership recognized a long ago that they must harness the fundamentalist mindset by having their candidates frequently reference the Bible and voice opposition to any science that happens to step on their constituent’s theological toes. Because the general public isn’t schooled in critical thinking (argumentative fallacies), they found that consistent and persistent personal attacks worked wonders.

    But it wasn’t until the rise of the neoconservatives in the 1970s that they were able to make significant headway, and not until the 1990 did they come up with the best way to mold the fundamentalist mind to their cause–propaganda (their weapon of choice in the Culture War).

    To that end, Newt Gingrich developed a formula for effective mind control (google “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control”) and presented it to the Republican Party through GOPAC.

    Shortly afterward, Fox “News” was established as the de facto mouthpiece of the RNC. Thus, Newt’s formula has been adopted by virtually all republican elected officials and candidates, and it is consistently followed and supported on Fox “News,” et al, on talk shows, in interviews and sometimes in the news itself.

    All the above taken together, it is easy to see how the Christian right is falling in line with Trump and it is no wonder that the misinformation, disinformation and rancor in politics has gotten so shrill and, frankly, unnerving.