Since the Reagan years, conventional wisdom has held that evangelicals, who make up roughly 25 percent of the U.S. population, are a formidable voting bloc capable of launching a candidate to the White House. But the 2016 election cycle is upsetting that wisdom.
Reports, surveys and exit polls show a significant number of evangelicals support Donald Trump — a kind of anti-evangelical in his messy personal life and mere passing acquaintance with the Bible. Meanwhile, avowed evangelical candidates such as Ben Carson and Marco Rubio (a Catholic-turned-Mormon-turned-Catholic who attends an evangelical church) failed to excite evangelical voters and dropped out of the race. And Ted Cruz, whose evangelical bona fides are a prominent part of his campaign, has had to fight for every evangelical vote he has won.
What is going on among American evangelical voters, who were once such a powerhouse? Are they now so divided that they no longer have the power to drive an election? What effect will their 2016 votes have on the future of the Republican Party? Or were they ever the solid voting bloc the press reported? Many of these questions won’t have definitive answers until after the election, but scholars, politicians and pundits agree: The political clout of American evangelicals is evolving.
- Read “Donald Trump’s Rise Shows Religion Is Losing Its Political Power” by Eduardo Porter for The New York Times, April 5, 2016. The takeaway: Religion’s prominence in the Republican Party is losing place to working-class discontent and economic nationalism.
- Read “Actually, Most Evangelicals Don’t Vote Trump” by Darren Patrick Guerra in Christianity Today, March 18, 2016. The takeaway: Exit polls say Trump does not have a majority of evangelicals voting for him, but a significant number of evangelicals say they are. Why?
- Read “The Huge Cultural Shift That’s Helping Trump Win Evangelicals” by Stephen Prothero for Politico, March 13, 2016. Prothero is a well-known scholar of American religion and a professor at Boston University. The takeaway: “America’s evangelicals just aren’t all that evangelical anymore.”
- Listen to “Evangelical Leaders Question Movement’s Support of Trump,” a March 3, 2016, NPR story and interview by Tom Gjelton. The takeaway: Several evangelical leaders who do not support Trump take to task their fellow evangelicals who do, calling their support of him “hypocrisy.”
- Read “American Evangelical Identity: Conservative Politics” by Bruce Gourley for Baptist Studies Bulletin, February 2016. The takeaway: An excellent overview of the history of evangelicals and politics in America.
- Read “7 types of evangelicals — and how they’ll affect the presidential race” by Daniel Burke writing for CNN.com, Jan. 25, 2016. The takeaway: Evangelicals seldom vote as a single bloc so predicting their impact is difficult.
- Listen to a Jan. 15, 2016, podcast from the National Association of Evangelicals in which its president, Leith Anderson, and LifeWay Research’s executive director, Ed Stetzer, discuss the changing definition of “evangelicals” and their future in the U.S.
- Read “Are You an Evangelical? Are You Sure?” by Danielle Kutzleben for NPR, Dec. 19, 2015. The takeaway: An excellent primer on what evangelicals are, where they live and how they have voted in the past.
- Read “Why Do Evangelicals Support Donald Trump” by Jonathan Merritt for The Atlantic, Sept. 3, 2015. The takeaway: There is a growing anti-establishment sentiment among evangelicals that they see reflected in Trump.
- Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly maintains a page of past segments on evangelicals and American politics.
Polls and other resources
- A March 24, 2016, poll published by the Barna Group found that evangelicals are the least engaged faith group in the current election.
- “Faith and the 2016 Campaign” is a report by the Pew Research Center published Jan. 27, 2016. It shows that most Americans say it is important the president have religious beliefs. At the same time, it finds that among all the candidates still in the race at that time, Americans found Trump to be the least religious by a large margin. The poll also found that two-thirds of Republicans say it is important that a president share their religious beliefs, and half of evangelicals say they think Carson, Trump or Cruz would make good presidents.
The Rev. Leith Anderson is president of the National Association of Evangelicals and the former senior pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minn.
Anderson and Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, wrote an article for Christianity Today about defining evangelicals in an election year.
Shane Claiborne is a Philadelphia-based Christian activist and author. He is a co-founder of Red Letter Christians, a Christian group that focuses on people at the economic and social margins and organized a day of prayer in support of an impeachment inquiry.
He has spoken out on social media against Trump and offered to send Trump supporters one of his books for free.
Randall Balmer holds the John Phillips Chair in Religion at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. He is an expert on American religious history and especially American evangelicalism and the role of religion in American presidential politics. He is the author of Evangelicalism in America, Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter and God in the White House: How Faith Shaped the Presidency From John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush.
Amy Black is a professor of political science at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill. She co-authored Of Little Faith: The Politics of George W. Bush’s Faith-Based Initiatives and is the author of Honoring God in Red or Blue: Approaching Politics with Humility, Grace and Reason.
Michael Cromartie is vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., where he heads its Evangelicals in Civic Life program. He is also an expert on religious liberty and Christianity and politics. His books include, as editor, Religion and Politics in America: A Conversation.
Bill Devlin is president of Redeem the Vote, a nonprofit organization that works to engage young people of faith in politics, especially through a voter registration drive. The group has been called the evangelical answer to MTV’s Rock the Vote. Contact Don Stillman in public relations.
John C. Green
John C. Green is a senior fellow at the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, specializing in religion and American politics. He also serves as interim university president, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics and distinguished professor of political science at the University of Akron.
David P. Gushee
David P. Gushee is a distinguished professor of Christian ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University in Atlanta. He is frequently quoted about evangelical perspectives on ethics and was the principal drafter of the Evangelical Declaration Against Torture. He describes himself as a “Christian centrist.” Gushee’s most recent book is Changing Our Mind: A Call From America’s Leading Evangelical Ethics Scholar for Full Acceptance of LGBT Christians in the Church, in which he outlines his change of heart from opposing same-sex relationships.
Darryl Hart is distinguished visiting assistant professor of church history at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Mich. His books include Refurnishing the Public Square: Religion and Public Policy in America; That Old-Time Religion in Modern America: Evangelical Protestantism in the Twentieth Century; and From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism.
David Kinnaman is president of the Barna Group, which conducts research on religious life within the United States and around the world.
He can discuss the findings of the Barna Group’s most recent poll on religion and politics.
T.M. Luhrmann is an anthropology professor at Stanford University and the author of When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God. In an April 13, 2013, New York Times op-ed essay, she describes herself as a secular observer of evangelical congregations and says “one of the most important features of these churches is that they offer a powerful way to deal with anxiety and distress, not because of what people believe but because of what they do when they pray.” The essay is titled “When God Is Your Therapist.” She has worked with psychotic homeless women, many who claimed God was their only friend.
Russell Moore is director of the Public Theology Project at Christianity Today.
Jonathan Merritt writes and speaks extensively on faith and culture and is a senior columnist for Religion News Service. Merritt’s books include A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars and Jesus Is Better Than You Imagined. He can discuss the viewpoints and concerns of young evangelicals on a range of issues, especially on sexuality and sexual identity and the environment. He lives in Brooklyn. Contact through his website.
Stephen Prothero is professor in the religion department at Boston University. He is author of Purified by Fire: A History of Cremation in America and American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon, which looks at popular images of Jesus in film, television and print. He has also written about American Hindus.
Prothero wrote a piece for Politico asking why evangelicals are migrating to Trump, whose personal life and political promises seem to contradict many of their assumed beliefs and values.
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. He has criticized conservative evangelicals who have spoken against or have remained silent on immigration and argued that the August 2019 mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, was driven, in part, by anti-immigrant rhetoric. Arrange an interview through the Kairos Co.
He has been critical of Donald Trump’s rhetoric surrounding immigrants, especially Hispanic immigrants.
Mark Silk is director for the Leonard Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. Silk is also professor of religion in public life at Trinity. He is particularly knowledgeable about religious variances from one part of the country to another; his books include (as co-author) One Nation, Divisible: How Regional Religious Differences Shape American Politics.
He is co-editor, with Candy Gunther Brown, of The Future of Evangelicalism in America (2016).
Gregory A. Smith
Gregory A. Smith is the associate director of research at the Pew Research Center. He’s an expert on religion in America. Arrange interviews through Anna Schiller.
He can discuss the Pew Research Center’s findings on religion and politics.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as executive director of the school’s Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He was formerly the executive director of Lifeway Research, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. He blogs on a variety of subjects related to American evangelicalism for Christianity Today.
With Leith Anderson of the National Association of Evangelicals, he researched the changing definition of “evangelical.”
John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics
The John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics advances the study of the intersection of religion and politics and publishes the journal Religion & Politics. It is based at Washington University in St. Louis. R. Marie Griffith is director.
Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals
The Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals, based at Wheaton College in Illinois, provides leadership in the study of evangelicals, informs the public and seeks to support evangelical scholars from a variety of disciplines who seek to apply Christian truths to intellectual and cultural endeavors.
The institute maintains a page dedicated to evangelicals in politics.
National Association of Evangelicals
The National Association of Evangelicals is an organization that includes 45,000 congregations from 40 member denominations, individual congregations from an additional 27 denominations, and 250 parachurch ministries and educational institutions. Its mission is to gather, strengthen and expand the evangelical community. Galen Carey is vice president for government relations.
National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, based in Sacramento, Calif., represents Hispanic evangelicals in the U.S. Samuel Rodriguez is founder and president.
The group’s leader, Samuel Rodriguez, has been critical of Trump’s views on immigration.
Melanie Brooks is a writer and memoirist who was raised in an evangelical home. Her father contracted HIV-AIDS through a blood transfusion and the criticism of Jerry Falwell and other evangelicals of people with HIV-AIDS deeply affected her and her family. She has written critically of Jerry Falwell Jr.’s support of Donald Trump. She lives in Maine.
Peter G. Heltzel
Peter G. Heltzel is associate professor of systematic theology at New York Theological Seminary and an ordained minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He is the author of Jesus and Justice: Evangelicals, Race and American Politics.
Andrew R. Murphy
Andrew R. Murphy is an associate professor of political science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. He co-edited the book Religion, Politics and American Identity: New Directions, New Controversies.
Laurie M. Johnson
Laurie M. Johnson is a political science professor at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan., where she teaches a course on religion and politics.
Kedron Bardwell is an associate professor of political science at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa. Bardwell’s focus includes American politics, public policy, civic engagement and collaboration. He has tracked the courting of evangelical voters in Iowa in the lead-up to the 2016 election.
Brent Waters is a professor of Christian social ethics for Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill. He co-edited God and the Embryo: Religious Voices on Stem Cells and Cloning. He studies Christian ethics and can discuss their relationship to Christian political thought.
Carl Abrams is a professor of social science at Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., who specializes in American religion and politics. He comments on religion and American culture for national and international publications.
Steve Parson Sr. is the founding pastor of The Richmond Christian Center in Richmond, Va. He has been a vocal Donald Trump supporter and was among a group of black pastors that met with Trump in late 2015 in a meeting that some in attendance classified as an endorsement and some did not. Parson made this YouTube video explaining his support of Trump. He and the church he founded have parted ways over a financial dispute.
John Stemberger is president and general counsel of Florida Family Action, a conservative evangelical advocacy group. In an essay for CNN, he wrote that, if elected, Donald Trump would be “the most immoral and ungodly person ever to be president of the United States.”
John S. Dickerson
John S. Dickerson is an evangelical Christian pastor and author of The Great Evangelical Recession: 6 Factors that Will Crash the American Church … and How to Prepare. He has written about evangelicals and presidential politics for The New York Times. Dickerson is the teaching pastor at Venture Christian Church in Los Gatos, Calif.
David Gutterman is an associate professor of politics at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., where he teaches a course on religion and politics. Gutterman co-edited the book Religion, Politics and American Identity: New Directions, New Controversies.
Scott Waller is an associate professor of political science at Biola University in La Mirada, Calif. He is a frequent commentator on religion and politics and evangelicals in local and national media.
Joshua Wilson is an associate professor of political science at the University of Denver, where he teaches a course on American conservatism called “Sex, Evangelicals & Politics.”
Related ReligionLink resources
“A guide to evangelicals and politics,” updated June 19, 2014.