A new study claims to have the answer to one of the most mystifying political questions in recent memory: Why are white evangelicals sticking with Donald Trump?
At a glance, Donald Trump seems like the most unlikely candidate for enthusiastic support among evangelical voters. His three marriages and multiple affairs alone would seem to disqualify him as the favorite candidate of the movement that backed the Christian Coalition and the Moral Majority. (Remember them?)
Immediately after his stunning victory in the 2016 presidential election, some polls and studies attempted to determine what motivated Donald Trump’s move avid supporters. Many concluded that racism and sexism were vital to Trump’s victory and that racial resentment drove most of his followers.
But not so fast. White evangelicals remain among Trump’s most devoted supporters, but necessarily for the reasons we might think.
A new study says that it’s not racism, sexism, or a specific religion itself that’s behind Trump’s support. It’s Christian nationalism — the belief that the United States is or should be a Christian nation – and it doesn’t matter what denomination believers follow.
The more someone believed that, the more likely they were to vote for Trump, even after controlling for things like political ideology, party, and cultural factors.
Christian nationalism may have been the primary motivator, but it doesn’t rule out other issues.
Antagonism towards Muslims ran a close second, suggesting that xenophobia and Christian nationalism worked together. Trump’s over the top rhetoric against Muslims helped him gather support.
The study doesn’t precisely discount racism either. Race and religion have always gone hand in hand in America. Interpretations of Christianity have been used to justify everything from colonialism to slavery to segregation — all inextricably intertwined with race.
In fact, race and support for Donald Trump are splitting evangelicals into a Trump-aligned conservative block still bent on winning the culture wars, and another more liberal on issues like immigration and more conscious of the need to reach out to non-white Christians.
Non-white evangelicals, mostly black and Latino, largely Democratic-leaning, have split off from the mainstream evangelical movement.
White evangelicals may be more likely to give Trump a pass on affairs with Playboy models and porn stars because they believe he’s their last hope of defending their idea of American as a Christian nation.
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t hoping he’ll keep the complexion of the country from changing as well.