Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are now displaying their religious faiths to reassure voters because Americans think that religion is an essential part of American life and worried about its decline. However, voters don’t yet buy Trump’s familiarity with the Bible and have probably have forgotten about Clinton’s faith background.
Trump went before Liberty University recently to declare his Christian faith as Ted Cruz surged among evangelical voters in Iowa. Cruz had launched his presidential campaign at the university.
Trump talked about his years of going to Sunday school and declared that he is a Presbyterian who adheres to the values of the Bible. In his speech he said that “Two Corinthians 3:17, that’s the whole ballgame…Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” The verse is etched on campus buildings at Liberty. Trump’s speech in Virginia was a message to Republican voters in faraway Iowa who will vote in a presidential primary election next Monday.
According to the Public Religion Research Institute’s American Values Atlas, forty-two percent of Republican voters in Iowa identify themselves as evangelical Christians. The Iowa primary vote takes place next Monday. The majority of GOP voters are evangelical Christians in half of the twenty-two states that will be casting their ballots for a presidential nominee between February 1st and March 5th.
During a stop this week in Knoxville, Iowa, Hillary Clinton also tick-tocked through the elements of her faith and its effects on her political values. She is in a neck-and-neck race for the Democratic nomination as president against Bernie Sanders, a U.S. Senator from Vermont.
Jessica Manning, a high school guidance counselor, asked how the values of her Catholic faith should guide her selection of a candidate for public office. According to transcripts of the encounter, Clinton responded, “I am a person of faith. I am a Christian. I am a Methodist.”
Then, the candidate referred to Biblical passages about taking care of the poor, the prisoners, and the stranger. She urged the voter, “The famous discussion on the Sermon on the Mount should be something that you really pay attention to….Because it sure does seem to favor the poor and the merciful and those who in worldly terms don’t have a lot but who have the spirit that God recognizes as being at the core of love and salvation.” Clinton also allowed that “in many areas judgment should be left to God, that being more open, tolerant and respectful is part of what makes me humble about my faith.”
The role of religion in the 2016 campaign
Americans are worried that religion is losing ground in the nation. 68% have this sentiment, and most say that this trend is a bad thing.
Consequently, a plurality of Americans (40%) wish that the candidates would talk more about their religious life. About half of the general population say that it is important to them that a president shares their religious beliefs.
These findings were part of a national survey “Faith and the 2016 Campaign” released this morning by the PEW Research Center. The researchers randomly called between January 7-14 landline and cell phones of 2009 Americans. The number of respondents is sufficient for relatively accurate results but too small to reveal the attitudes of residents in any one state like New York.
In the past PEW asked a somewhat different question about the president’s religion. Respondents were asked to agree or disagree with the statement that “it is important that the president have strong religious beliefs.” Around 70% of Americans agreed, an opinion that is probably just strong today. That probably means that Americans want a religious president even if his religion is different from their own.
In general this large, enduring foundation of American culture favors the Republicans more than the Democrats. The survey found that Americans more often think that the Republican Party is more friendly toward religion than the Democrats. Democrats like Clinton from time to time feel that they need to remind Americans about their own religious commitments. Howard Dean, former presidential candidate who promoted an effort to make the Democrat Party more religion-friendly, endorsed Clinton just before Christmas over his fellow Vermonter Sanders.
Do Americans think that Trump’s and Clinton’s New York Values include religion?
Rival Ted Cruz criticized Trump’s “New York values” as out of step with GOP voters. Cruz’s core support in Iowa are evangelical Christians. Although Trump was not slow to respond by visiting Liberty University, a citadel of the Christian political conservatives, and collecting the endorsements of its president and Sarah Palin, he hasn’t convinced Americans that he really knows what he is talking about when he quotes the Bible, like he did at Liberty.
60% of Americans say that they see Trump as not too or not at all religious.
Trump wins if GOP voters see him as even somewhat religious, loses if they see him as only a little bit religious.
Trump has the most negative evaluation by Americans of this religiosity among all the presidential candidates. 37% don’t think he is religious at all, 22% think that he is not too religious. 28% see Trump as somewhat religious, and 5% see him as “very religious.”
The dividing line that separates Trump supporters from non-supporters is “somewhat religious.” 73% of Republican/Republican-leaning registered voters who say that Trump would be a good or great president also believe that he is very or somewhat religious.
However, among the GOP voters who see Trump as not religious, much fewer believe that Trump would be a good or great president. Emphatically, about a third of these voters (36%) say that Trump would be a poor or terrible president. No other GOP presidential contender has such a negative valuation of his or her presidential prospects. True, 41% of the voters who are skeptical of Trump’s declarations of religious faith also see him as being a good or great president -- but this is a tremendous drop from the 73% who see Trump as at least somewhat religious and say he would be a good or great president.
If Trump can move GOP voters opinion toward the view that Trump is at least "somewhat religious,” then it is likely that the proportion of voters who see him as a likely great or good president will shoot up. Then, Trump would have a much better chance to vie for their votes. He doesn’t have to convince them that is “very religious,” probably a very difficult task anyway.
Voters want their president to be at least somewhat religious, not necessarily of their own faith. This attitude may explain why Trump is getting evangelical voter support. As long as he can show that he has some religion, many evangelicals feel that at least he has some empathy for them. In light of their concern about the deteriorating state of religion in America, evangelicals connect to Trump’s strenuous declaration about making America strong again.
Trump is continuing to meet privately with evangelical leaders who may support him if he can convince them that he is at least somewhat religious.
Clinton has a strong voter base among Protestant African Americans
In general Americans are divided in their perceptions of Clinton’s religion. This may be because of the past moral difficulties that her husband had and because she hasn’t talked about her faith too much. The Democrat Party is not as strong religious context as is the Republican Party.
The American public is divided on how religious Clinton is. About half (48%) see her as very or somewhat religious and a little less than half see her as not very religious (43%).
Protestant African Americans, who have similar convictions to White evangelicals, overwhelmingly give Clinton their support. 62% say that they think Clinton would be a great or good President.
However, PEW’s evangelical voters (which means mainly White, Asian and Hispanic evangelicals) are very negative about Clinton. 74% think that she would be a poor or terrible candidate.
Washingtonians, the morally disputable, Muslims and athiests need not apply for President
Many Americans say that they are much less likely to vote for candidates with certain traits. 31% would be less likely to vote for a candidate with longtime Washington experience. Over forty percent would be less likely to vote for Muslim atheist or someone who has had personal financial troubles.