In mid-October, right-wing activist and former head of the Christian Coalition Ralph Reed declared that Donald Trump would do astonishingly well with white evangelicals in the election. He won approximately 81% of their vote in 2016 but Reed predicted a far better showing.
“I think the 81 percent of the evangelical vote that Trump received four years ago is the floor,” Reed, president of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said in an interview. “I don’t think it’s beyond the realm of possibility that he could end up in the mid-80s.”
Reed also dismissed reports of a growing number of evangelical and anti-abortion groups supporting Democrat Joe Biden and opposing Trump, such as Pro-Life Evangelicals for Trump, Not Our Faith PAC, Christians Against Trumpism and Political Extremism and several others.
“Unless they’ve put robust funding behind this, $25 million or more would be the minimum, they’re not going to be able to move the needle,” Reed said.
Well, now that the election is over, we can check this.
The Associated Press is now saying that while white evangelical support was certainly there for Trump, it did not significantly improve upon what he got in 2016. It stayed about the same for the die-hards while it got worse for Trump among most other groups.
President Donald Trump won support from about 8 in 10 white evangelical Christian voters in his race for reelection, but Catholic voters split almost evenly between him and Democratic opponent Joe Biden, according to AP VoteCast.
But it’s not the mid-80s, that’s for damn sure. And while there’s an ever-so-slight bump for white evangelicals, they represent a slightly smaller voting bloc than they did in 2016. In other words, they’ve gotten smaller as a group, but they’ve grown a bit more homogenous. The people who didn’t want to be associated with them and their politics have left.
Maybe Ralph Reed misjudged how many Christians would find Trump’s cruelty and bigotry appealing. The good news is that, among Christians who aren’t MAGA cultists, Trump support was far less enthusiastic.
Among white Catholics, 57% backed Trump and 42% backed Biden, according to VoteCast. In 2016, Trump won 64% of white Catholics and Clinton won 31%, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of voters.
Among Hispanic Catholics, VoteCast shows 67% backed Biden and 32% backed Trump.
“The election results show that the Catholic Church is as divided as our nation, but the real divide is race and ethnicity, not theology,” said David Gibson, director of Fordham University’s Center on Religion and Culture.
Data is still coming in, but the message for the Democratic Party is becoming clear already: They must stop trying to win over white evangelicals on matters of theology or conservative politics. Be moral. Be decent. Other Christians will come along for the ride and help tip the scales.
In fact, that may have been what worked in Georgia, where Biden’s message appealed to more white evangelicals than Hillary Clinton‘s did.
There are many reasons Georgia is within reach for Joe Biden. One of them is that he absolutely crushed Trump among moderates, winning 63% of a group that was 38% of the electorate. Another is that Biden nearly tripled Clinton's 2016 showing among white evangelicals in the state.
— Michael Wear (@MichaelRWear) November 6, 2020
More practically speaking, Democrats looking to do well in red states need to find smarter ways to talk about issues like abortion and civil rights instead of caving in on policy matters — Pete Buttigieg did it extraordinarily well during his presidential run.
Ultimately, though, Ralph Reed was wrong. Trump did not make major inroads with white evangelicals. He had his base. He did nothing to grow his base. And it’s becoming apparent that his base is slowly eroding. That’s great news for the rest of the country.
Conservative Christians are neither moral nor a majority. It’s about time more people recognized that. For years now, Republican politicians would tell audiences they were “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.” As Elizabeth Bruenig says accurately in the New York Times, though, white evangelicals are now more of a “political bloc with a religious past.” There’s no need to bend over backwards to accommodate them.