The economy was the single most important issue for faith voters that supported businessman Donald Trump for the Presidency. A broad coalition of religious conservatives and moderates coalesced to give the GOP top-to-bottom victories at the national, state, and local levels. Although the nation is divided, religious conservatives and moderates were more committed to turn out to vote for Trump and his vision for transforming the nation.
In addition to their usual moral agenda like pro-life and family strengthening issues, the coalition came together on a much wider set of issues that reflected the interests of a lower middle and working class bruised by globalization. The Trump faith voters were protesting the outsourcing of their jobs, higher taxes and medical costs, a de-emphasis of religious liberty by government policy makers, and a lack of respect from cultural elites.
These are some of the preliminary conclusions from the election exit poll sponsored by a consortium of ABC News, Associated Press, CBS News, CNN, Fox News, and NBC News. Edison Research of New Jersey made the projections and did the exit poll analysis. In the nationwide survey, about 45% of the people, who were given the exit poll questionnaire to take home, filled it out and mailed it back. Telephone interviews were made to reach absentee and early voters. (See the methodology of the exit poll at the end of the article.)
The White evangelical Christians
The poll takers did not release separate voting figures for Protestant evangelicals.
Instead, the exit poll asked respondents their answers to the question, “Are you a “White evangelical or white born-again Christian”? A person of any religious identity could answer this question, and many did.
81% of these “White evangelical or white born-again Christians” affirmed that they voted for Donald Trump.
An ambiguity in the way the question was asked is that the “White evangelical or born-again Christians” included Protestants, Catholics, “Other Christians,” Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, and anyone else who decided to mark the answer “Yes.”
Because up to 25% of Catholics normally answer this type of question as “yes, I am an evangelical or born-again Christian,” they may have made up one-fourth of the “White evangelical or born-again Christians.”
So, the headline should read, “White evangelical and white born-again Protestants, Catholics, Other Christians, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, and others put Trump over the top.”
The religious bottom line of the presidential election
The religious contribution to Trump’s victory is the result of a complicated coalition of religious, ethnic, and racial groups. No religious or racial stereotype completely fits the result.
This diversity means that governing will get harder as one group after another is disappointed by some policy by the Republicans.
First, a fourth of the votes for Trump’s victory came from Catholics. White Catholics supported Trump over Clinton by a stunning 23-point margin of 60% to 37%.
Second, almost one out of four Jews voted for Trump. Overall, the Jewish vote was a small portion of the voters, about 3%. However, in New York City, the Jewish voting bloc is significant. If you look at the map of voting returns in New York City, it is strikingly clear that the red colored areas that mainly voted for Trump are heavily populated by Orthodox and Russian Jews. As one satisfied Russian rabbi told A Journey through NYC religions, “I wasn’t surprised by Trump’s victory.” He wondered why so many Jews voted for a candidate and Democratic Party that seems to place more value on friendship with Iran than with Israel.
Third, Trump got almost one-third of the Hispanic vote, according to the exit poll. (Some Hispanic activists dispute this result based on their own survey of heavily new immigrant Hispanic areas.) One out of four Hispanic Catholics voted for Trump. Further, there is some anecdotal evidence that Hispanic evangelicals gave Trump an even greater portion of their vote to Trump.
Bishop Hector Bonano and other conservative Hispanic pastors in the Bronx held two large focus groups of about fifty ministers in each one. One was held before the scandalous ACCESS Hollywood recording was released, and one focus group was held just before the election. These focus groups were not scientifically selected, but they did represent one of the larger networks of Hispanic churches in New York City.
According to Bonano and one leader present at both of the focus groups, the large majority supported Trump.
Of course, there are other pastors in the Bronx that supported Clinton. Just before Election Day, Rev. Dr. Ray Rivera, widely esteemed for his ministries to the poor, offered a reluctant but vigorous endorsement of the former Secretary of State. He wrote, “In my opinion, Hillary has a solid record of service and experience when it relates to the poor, the working class and the middle class of this country.”
Fourth, Trump got more African American voters than several other recent GOP candidates. However, his 8% of the African American vote is still tiny. Clinton lost 4% of the African vote to other candidates. In sum, the 12% of African Americans who voted for someone other than Clinton is a noticeable political change. It is a 100%+ increase over previous results in the non-Democratic African American vote.
Trump's respectful treatment of evangelical African American Dr. Ben Carson caught the attention of many African American evangelical Protestants. Also, younger African American voters did not particularly like Hillary Clinton and contributed to a much lower African American voter turnout than came out for Barack Obama. About 2 million fewer African American voters than in 2012 turned out to vote.
One wonders about the effect of Trump’s clumsy promise to solve the problems of the “horrible” inner city. He repeatedly made the promise and held various symbolic meetings with African American Christians.
Fifth, Trump received a surprising 41% of the voters who classified themselves as "moderate." 81% of the conservatives went for Trump, according to the exit poll. At this point, we are assuming that the moderates and conservatives were found in the about same percentages among the religious voters. Our examination of one of the state exit polls leads us toward this conclusion.
A low number (29%) of Asian Americans voted for voted for Trump. One local Chinese radio called the two candidates “two rotten apples,” but particularly didn’t like Trump’s dismissive words toward immigrants. However, the exit polls indicate that one-half of Asian American voters voted for Republican congressional candidates.
Religious Nones, those who don’t identify with any particular religion or no religion, made up 15% of the voters. This percentage for the Nones is significantly lower than what some other surveys have shown. This may be due to lower voter registration and turn-out among younger people. Clinton got 68% of their votes. In 2008, Obama got 75% of their votes, and in 2012 70%. By this measure, the participation of Nones in the election process is going down.
The surveyors did not report on the political views of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and others because the sample sizes were too small.
Clinton’s strategic decision to minimize outreach to religious voters was probably based on the evaluation that any major push to win religious voters might just end up causing higher turnout among voters that were going to vote against her. On the other hand, the minimal outreach could be read by evangelical Christian voters as a blow by the back of the hand from Clinton.
Furthermore, her reliance on White college educated suburban females, younger voters, African Americans, Hispanics, cultural elites along with a boatload of the wealthy looks like a strategic mistake. 77% of the registered voters are White (whose meaning is once more changing as Hispanics and mixed race individuals claim the identity also). And a large majority of all adults in the United States don't have college degree. And a large majority of Americans think religious faith is important.
It was a shaky assumption that Clinton could win with a campaign with a secular spirit and with White women professionals as her core White vote. The Democratic candidate only got 34% of White women without a college degree. After she said mass in the morning, Rosie the Riveter nailed down the election in the voting booth for Trump. It even seems that in some suburbs, like those around Philadelphia, Trump actually won the White female professional vote. Overall, Clinton's massive investment in winning women resulted in only a one-point gain over Obama's result. Lower turnouts of younger voters and African Americans and a split vote among Hispanics sent her election plane into a tailspin as her super-well-funded data machine kept reassuring that she was on course.
The response rate for the nationwide survey was 45% (there were also state exit polls in several swing states, but not New York). The surveyors obtained completed questionnaires from 24,537 voters leaving 350 scientifically selected voting places throughout the United States on Election Day including 4,398 telephone interviews with early and absentee voters. However, some questions were answered by different numbers of the respondents.
There is the current problem of non-responses to poll takers. As we know from previous polling and voter turnouts in the 2016 GOP primaries, many evangelical Christians say that they did not answer survey interviewers because of their suspicion about media unfairness. Nationally, the producers of the presidential election exit poll say that the rate at which voters responded to requests to take a questionnaire home and send it back was 45%, which is pretty high.