In the Financial Times, Gary Silverman explores why Evangelical Protestants in the Bible Belt “lost God and found Trump.” He rightly points out that
Trump was backed by 81 per cent of white voters who identified themselves as evangelical Christians, more than recent Republican candidates such as Mitt Romney and John McCain, according to the Pew Research Center, and more even than George W Bush, whose strategist Karl Rove made wooing them a priority of the campaign.
Silverman interviews various evangelical figures in his quest for a satisfactory answer but he’s missing two of the most important variables in the equation: age and partisanship. Evangelicals didn’t support Trump because they “lost God.” They are as devout as they’ve always been. But their politics have become more conservative. They are the Republican base.
A comparison of white evangelical Protestants in the 2007 and 2014 Pew Religious Landscape Surveys shows that overall the cohort has become much older in the near decade between the surveys.
In 2007 a majority of white evangelicals were under the age of 50 but in 2014 a majority were older than 50 years of age. This has made them a prime Fox News constituency (white and old).
They’re more Republican and conservative
As they have gotten older, they here also become more conservative. Their ideology has become slightly more conservative (60 percent In 2014 vs. 55 percent in 2007). The movement is the result of a decline of moderates
Their conservative shift was accompanied by an even stronger shift toward the Republican Party as it relates to partisan preference. A 9-percentage point gain to be exact. In 2007 a majority (56 percent) said they were Republicans but in 2014, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) said so.
On the Democratic side there was an identical 9-percentage point loss. Thus, the GOP party ID advantage increased from +26 to +44. An incredible 18-point gap in just under a decade. These political changes in identification have policy consequences.
White evangelical’s attitudes toward government have soured accordingly. In 2007 a little over one-third (36 percent ) of evangelicals preferred a bigger government with more services while a majority (53 percent) prefund a smaller government.
The 17-point gap in preference for small government became a whopping 50-point gap in 2014. Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of white evangelicals prefer a smaller government. Just about 1-in-5 (22 percent) went a bigger government.
Still worship the same God
Contrary to Silverman’s assessment, evangelicals haven’t lost God. If there’s one area where this cohort is consistent it’s on their views on God and the Bible. Nearly 8 in 10 consider religion to be “very important” in their lives.
Other aspects of religious life have also remained constant. They report praying at least daily at similar rates in both surveys. They also report nearly identical rates of participation in prayer services.
Moreover , in both surveys evangelicals report identical weekly church attendance rates (57 percent). Considering what we know about over reporting of church attendance this means they’re very good at lying.
Unfortunately, Silverman omits any discussion about race. The evidence that Trump’s support was driven by racism has moved from the anecdotal to the empirical. Not all evangelicals supported Trump as such high rates, only white ones.
This primarily old, white, and Southern cohort wanted America to be “great” again. That included harking back to the days of segregation and a less “politically correct” time when attacks on racial minorities were extralegal. It is not surprising then, that white evangelicals are the most likely to want to turn the clock back to 1950. Until we admit the fact that politically white evangelicals are driven by bigotry and prejudice , we will continue seeing these “deep” analyses that say a lot and not too much simultaneously.
Evangelicals never lost God. With Barack Obama in the White House, the yearning for a glorious age when black Americans knew their place and the only brown men theyknew was Ricky Ricardo became stronger. Trump promised restoration. He may be an unlikely Messiah, butif you know their politics, you know the piety is just for show.