September 23, 2016

Many evangelicals favor Trump because he is not Clinton

Throughout the primaries and general election campaign, many observers have expressed puzzlement at the support for Donald Trump among white evangelical Protestant voters. Why would evangelicals rally behind a thrice-married candidate who is not widely viewed as particularly religious and whose views on the issues have not always aligned with the preferences of most evangelical voters?

A new Pew Research Center survey gave Trump supporters the chance to describe, in their own words, the reasons they support him over his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. Like other Trump backers, many evangelical voters are motivated as much by opposition to Clinton as by support for Trump. Indeed, 35% of white evangelical voters who support Trump mentioned that they do so at least in part because he is not Clinton. (The survey also asked Clinton supporters why they favor her candidacy, and about one-third cited Trump as a main reason they back her.)

Evangelicals cite other reasons for supporting him beyond opposition to Clinton. Roughly one-third of evangelical Trump supporters also pointed to his issue positions as the main reason they support him, and about one-quarter (26%) mentioned his status as a political outsider who will bring change to the political system as a reason for backing him. One-in-five said they support him because of his personality and “tell-it-like-it-is” style.

In addition to the open-ended question, the survey asked Trump supporters whether each of a number of specific characteristics is a “major reason,” “minor reason” or “not a reason” for backing him. Overall, evangelicals’ reasons for supporting Trump mirror those of Trump supporters as a whole. Eight-in-ten white evangelical Trump backers said his views on terrorism are a “major reason” for their support. A similar share of evangelical Trump supporters (78%) said his economic positions are a major reason for backing him, and 76% cited dislike for Clinton as a major reason for their support.

Two-thirds of evangelical voters who support Trump said his views on immigration and his leadership ability are key reasons they favored him, while 44% said they like the fact that he has not previously served in government and 38% are backing him because he is the Republican nominee. Fewer said they back him because of his views on race relations (29%) or because of his personality (16%).

This post and its graphics have been updated and corrected due to an earlier error in the way white evangelical and white mainline Protestant respondents were categorized in the survey. 

Topics: Political Attitudes and Values, Evangelical Protestants and Evangelicalism, Political Polarization, 2016 Election

  1. Photo of Gregory A. Smith

    is an associate director of research at Pew Research Center.


  1. Anonymous11 months ago

    The “good Germans” in 1933 voted for Adolf Hitler as Chancellor for the sane basic set of reasons. And the Weimar Republic had the most liberal constitution of any nation state in the same time period. Pew’s research, plus a knowledge of 20th century history, shows parallels that should leave everyone reexamining his/her motives and their likely consequences.

  2. Anonymous11 months ago

    Some say the voters have a choice of voting for the lesser of two evils. One of them wants the following:
    l. Raise taxes.
    2. Open the borders to any and all including those who will do us harm.
    3. Close coal mines.
    4. Cause taxpayers to waste money on unworkable energy schemes
    5. Appoint liberal judges to the Supreme Court who write law instead of interpreting the
    law as the Constitution is written
    6. Reduce the military, thus making us more vulnerabile to a hostile world.
    7. Continue Obama’s method of giving out misinformation to the public.
    The other candidate espouses the opposite objecties.

    1. Anonymous11 months ago

      And the missing #8: Has contempt for people of faith. #8 may explain their support for Trump as much as any of the first 7.

  3. Anonymous11 months ago

    My first Presidential election was in 1972. I voted absentee from a foxhole in Viet Nam. Since that time, I have voted in every primary and general election and every local election regardless of the issues.

    This is the first election that I feel I may not vote. As I see this election, there are two crooks in one party and a crook and a clueless nobody in the other; two elites attempting to show how they have “middle-class values” and two junior-elites paying their dues forward. It will be a sad day in November since again, We The People have no meaningful candidates.

    Huey Long once said to “hold your nose and vote for me”. How can you hold your nose with both hands and still mark the ballot?

    1. Anonymous11 months ago

      Just consider your vote going to Hillary then. All the experts I have listen to, say not to vote is a vote for Hillary. I do understand how you feel, but I will still vote. I will vote for the lessor of the two evils. And also as a mother who had two sons give many, many years to the military, since the late 1990’s, there is NO way I would ever give Hillary my vote, knowing she left those soldiers to die in Benghazi. Much less all her other crimes. That’s not saying I agree with all Trump has said and done. Because I don’t. But Trump will get my vote.
      And I do strongly understand the Vietnam vet’s. All of my brother’s served in the worst time in that war, one brother served 3 tours just to be near his brother who was there at that time. And all three, plus both of my sons are all voting Trump. Lessor of the two evils. This is America, and you have your right to sit at home and ride this election out. Best to You. And God bless.

    2. Anonymous11 months ago

      I to am a Vietnam vet. Same as you on voting every election since 1972. I hate to see you waste your vote, this time. I will be voting for Donald Trump.