White Americans surprise, more assuming than shedding evangelical label during Trump presidency, especially his supporters
Recent times stirred some tense polarization in the United States. Yet there was no mass exodus from evangelicalism by white evangelicals who disliked Donald Trump nor by evangelicals of color during the four years of his presidency, despite some believing they might take place new research has found.
Contrary to what some people may have expected, a new analysis of the Pew Research Center survey data finds that there has been no large-scale departure from evangelicalism among white Americans.
Since Trump was elected president in 2016 due in part to strong support from White evangelical Protestants, many observers have wondered what impact this political alliance might have on the evangelical church in the United States.
Would there be an exodus from the church on the part of those who do not share their fellow evangelicals' enthusiasm for the former president?
If so, would this leave behind a smaller evangelical population, or would any such defectors be replaced by Trump-supporting converts to evangelicalism?
And would white evangelicals who backed Trump in 2016 stick with him in 2020?
Contrary to what some may have expected, the new analysis of Pew Research Center survey data found that there has been no large-scale departure from evangelicalism among white Americans.
Rather, the research shows solid evidence that white Americans who viewed Trump favorably and did not identify as evangelicals in 2016 were much more likely than White Trump skeptics to begin identifying as born-again or evangelical Protestants by 2020.
The findings complicate an already fraught discussion around the future of the evangelicalism and the political baggage the label carries in the United States, Christianity Today reported.
"Evangelicalism is not collapsing, despite the enthusiastic predictions of its detractors. However, what it is becoming I think is worthy of more conversation," said Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center said in a CT interview.
"There are significant implications to the fact that significant numbers of white Trump supporters now identify as evangelical or born again. We don't know why, and correlation does not always mean causation, but there is more to study here."
The surveys do not clearly show that white evangelicals who opposed Trump were significantly more likely than his supporters to drop the evangelical label.
EVANGELICALS' ELECTORAL PERFORMANCE
The data also shows that Trump's electoral performance among white evangelicals was even stronger in 2020 than in 2016, partially due to increased support among white voters who described themselves as evangelicals throughout this period.
One finding was there was no mass departure of white Americans from evangelical Protestantism between 2016 and 2020.
Among all white adults who participated in both the 2016 and 2020 surveys, 25 percent described themselves as born-again or evangelical Protestants in 2016; 29 percent described themselves this way in 2020.
"Of course, this doesn't mean that no one stopped identifying with evangelicalism between 2016 and 2020," Pew says.
The survey shows that among white respondents who participated in both surveys, 2 percent identified as born-again/evangelical Protestants in 2016 and no longer did so by 2020.
However, the 2 percent of white adults who stopped identifying as evangelicals during Trump's term were more than offset by the 6 percent of white adults who began calling themselves born-again/evangelical Protestants between 2016 and 2020.
Another finding was that Trump reaped even more support in 2020 than in 2016 among white voters who identified as evangelical Protestants in both years and voted in at least one of the two elections.
Six-in-ten in this group were consistent Trump supporters who cast ballots for him in both 2016 and 2020, and an additional 18 percent were Trump converts – they backed him in 2020 after voting for another candidate or not voting at all in the 2016 general election.
In total, 78 percent of white voters who identified as evangelicals at both points in time voted for Trump in 2020.
By contrast, 9 percent of voters in this group were Trump defectors who backed someone else or did not vote in 2020 after voting for Trump in 2016. The remaining 13 percent did not vote for Trump in either election.