Here’s some good news for anyone worried about what may happen this November: Joe Biden may be peeling away support from the one voting bloc Donald Trump can’t afford to lose: white evangelicals.
Roughly 81% of them voted for Trump in 2016, and with a number that high, it can really only go down. But given Trump’s thin margins of victory in a handful of swing states, a small drop-off could be disastrous for his re-election efforts (which would be fantastic news for everyone else).
Biden, a lifelong Roman Catholic, has performed better in recent polling among white evangelicals — and other religious groups — than Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton did in 2016 and is widely perceived as more religious than the current White House occupant. A Pew Research study conducted earlier this year showed that a majority of U.S. adults (63 percent) think Trump is “not at all” or “not too religious,” versus 55 percent who said they believed Biden is somewhat or very religious.
Many conservative evangelical leaders have argued that Biden’s positions on cultural issues — like abortion, judges and religious freedom — are disqualifying. Still, anxiety is growing inside Trump’s orbit about the former vice president’s ability to peel off Christian voters who supported Trump in 2016, including the 81 percent of white evangelicals he carried, according to eight administration officials, White House allies and people involved with the Trump campaign.
Don’t get excited, though. It’s a nice thought, but no one who cares about this election should pin their hopes on white evangelicals finally doing the right thing. They’ve managed to botch the simplest moral questions of our time — like marriage equality — and it would be ridiculously easy to just say “Joe Biden wants to kill babies, so vote for Trump no matter what.” It’s a stupid argument, and it’s patently untrue, but it works on them every time.
A few other things to keep in mind:
White evangelicals didn’t enthusiastically support Trump leading up to the election in 2016.
Just look at this poll from August of that year:
Fox News Poll.
White Evangelicals. MoE is +/- 5.5% for this subgroup.
July 31-August 2, 2016
June 18, 2020
— Ryan Burge � (@ryanburge) June 21, 2020
While a million things happened between that 2016 poll and November, Trump’s support among white evangelicals grew by a lot in that time. Were some of them lying to pollsters? Maybe. Trump revealed their hypocrisy and it’s possible they didn’t want to admit it at the time. (Also, those numbers fall within the margin of error, so it’s not totally clear some of them are running from Trump.)
Trump’s campaign may want to stoke more fear in evangelicals by suggesting he’s in trouble.
There’s no better way to remind white evangelicals of what’s at stake if Democrats win the White House than by allowing their imaginations to run wild right now. By saying Trump’s in trouble, it allows evangelical leaders to rally their troops with time to spare.
Biden isn’t really any more religious than Hillary Clinton was.
Do white evangelicals see Biden as one of their own even if he doesn’t have the same religious label? That’s unlikely. Clinton was plenty religious too. Their policies have never been all that different from each other. So I have a hard time believing Biden’s God-talk (which he’s certainly more comfortable with than Clinton) is winning over white evangelicals.
It’s early. Don’t trust polling.
I don’t care if the polls say Trump has 0% support. Everyone should act like the race is tied and vote accordingly. Even if Trump is losing some white evangelicals, he may win over a different group (that may have sat out in 2016) that relishes the chaos, refusal to govern, and race-bating that constitutes the core of the modern GOP.
All that said, Biden’s team seems to recognize all this, so they’re hopefully not taking anything for granted. POLITICO notes that his campaign holds weekly calls with (presumably progressive) religious leaders. He’s planning sit-down interviews with places like the Christian Broadcasting Network. They would be wise to hire an outreach directly specifically to encourage Secular Americans to vote, too, not because we’ll suddenly support Trump but because some of us may not vote at all.
But when Trump is just constantly shooting himself in the foot with things like the pathetic photo op outside a church, Biden shouldn’t have to do too much to win over religious voters. Just remind them of how Trump’s actions have killed Americans, embarrassed the nation, and torn apart countless families — all of which is true — and let evangelical Christians decide if he’s really worth the trouble.
Surely a small percentage of them will realize Republican cruelty isn’t doing their faith any favors.
(Image via Shutterstock)