Most Conservative Christians Support Trump. Will They Help Him Win Again?

Heather Way, who home-schools her three children in Waterville, Maine, said President Trump had proved to be “a man of his word.”

Michael Poe, who works in the hazardous waste department of Gilbert, Ariz., said Mr. Trump aligned with his values, from economic to anti-abortion policy.

Jonathan Thorne, a Southern Baptist youth pastor in Fayetteville, N.C., said Mr. Trump defended Christians, whose “rights are always being taken away.”

All three are evangelical Christians. All say their support for Mr. Trump has grown even stronger since they voted for him four years ago. And all represent the white, Christian core of Mr. Trump’s base that he needs to hold in order to win on Tuesday, just as they pushed him to a surprise victory in 2016.

“I think Trump’s going to win,” Mr. Thorne said. “I think that silent majority is going to pull it out for him, like they did in 2016.”

At key moments for the past four years, conservative Christians have time and again offered their uncompromising support for Mr. Trump when he needed it most. They voted for him en masse in 2016, stood by him through policies like the ban on travel from several Muslim countries and the separation of families at the border, and championed his Supreme Court nominees.

And although a number of coalitions that supported Mr. Trump’s win four years ago, like suburban women and rural voters, have appeared to fray, white Christians still overwhelmingly support him. About 80 percent of white evangelical voters support Mr. Trump, according to the latest polling, about the same as supported him in 2016.

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Keep up with Election 2020

The share of white evangelicals who vote for Mr. Trump could potentially increase to 85 percent, said Robert P. Jones, whose Public Religion Research Institute has extensively polled the group. Mr. Jones also said that he did not detect any significant gender gap among white evangelicals — unlike the rest of the country — and that the idea Joseph R. Biden Jr. could shave off a significant portion of the demographic is unrealistic.

“There’s no world in which Biden is going to get a quarter of white evangelical votes,” Mr. Jones said. “They look just so locked in.”

The 2020 election has revealed a deep divide between white Christians and other people of faith. Mr. Biden is the leading candidate for Black Protestants and Hispanic Catholics, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted recently while Mr. Trump was hospitalized with Covid-19. The majority of white Christians who are Catholic or Protestant, but not evangelical, also support Mr. Trump over Mr. Biden, though the gap is smaller.

There are some high-profile stories of resistance, like Billy Graham’s granddaughter Jerushah Duford, an evangelical who calls herself pro-life and is voting for Mr. Biden. A pastor in Holland, Mich., quit his church after most of his congregation continued to support Mr. Trump, whom he considered antithetical to the Gospel message.

But it is difficult to know exactly how many evangelicals have changed their minds, and if they are in swing states. Voices of dissent, when they exist, are often uncomfortable saying publicly that they will not vote for Mr. Trump, because of how contentious the issue is in their families or churches.

ImageMr. Trump at a dinner celebrating evangelical leadership in 2018. Voices of dissent among evangelicals, when they exist, are often uncomfortable saying publicly that they will not vote him in next week’s election.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

In the Woodlands, Texas, Janice Barchie, 66, an evangelical who had home-schooled her seven children for years, long voted Republican because of the issue of abortion. She put a tiny Biden sign in her front yard.

“My pendulum has totally swung because of Trump’s behavior,” she said. “He’s so awful. I voted straight Democratic ticket because I am so mad at Republicans.”

But she does not talk about her decision with her friends, and she knows many in her church support Mr. Trump.

“It’s one thing to make a passing comment to a neighbor or a woman in the gym, but if lose my friends from 20 years, I’m not going to have any friends,” she said.

Mr. Biden has hoped to peel off even a small portion of evangelical voters. After the 2018 midterm elections, when Democrats earned big victories in the House, social conservatives were forced to confront the limits of their base. Any decline, even if small, would be notable given the decades-long alliance between Republicans and conservative Christians, which has only grown stronger during Mr. Trump’s four years in office.

Mr. Biden’s campaign has placed ads on Christian radio stations, hired a white evangelical man to lead its faith outreach and tried to assuage evangelicals who feel the Democratic Party has been hostile to their faith. Earlier this week Mr. Biden made his case in an op-ed for The Christian Post, an evangelical publication that has printed editorials in support of Mr. Trump.

But the level of resistance also feels similar to the final weeks of 2016. Then, like this fall, a few prominent white Christians, such as Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention, broke with the evangelical mainstream. There were opinion pieces urging white evangelicals to expand their views of what it means to be “pro-life.”

White evangelicals are a critical voting bloc because of their commitment to voting. They make up about 15 percent of the general population, according to the Public Religion Research Institute, but they typically make up about 25 percent of the electorate.

Mr. Trump has also been able to draw in some new conservative Christian supporters. In Scottsdale, Ariz., Lael Beier, who is Catholic and works in interior design, did not vote for president four years ago because she did not trust Mr. Trump’s morals and did not support Hillary Clinton. But even though she does not see her self as a Trump supporter, this time she cast her vote for him.

She appreciates that he has opposed abortion, named conservative justices to the Supreme Court, and moved the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, all policy moves that Mr. Trump’s evangelical power brokers hope will increase the support from his base.

The whole election feels like a “scary turning point” for the nation, she said. She meets regularly with a small group of about a dozen evangelical and Catholic women across party lines to pray for their families and for the country, as they have for the past 30 years, and all seem concerned, she said.

“I feel a real doomsday over this,” Ms. Beier, 68, said. “Then we have to remember, we are made for a different kingdom, so I can’t despair.”

And maybe, though it looks unlikely, Mr. Trump would still win, she said.

“He’s the guy who pulls things out of his hat all the time,” she said.

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