Evangelical Vote Once Again Split on Ethnic Lines

Evangelicals seem ready to cast their ballots in the 2020 election. Nine in 10 evangelicals by belief are registered to vote, and few are undecided about their presidential choice.

new survey from Nashville-based LifeWay Research conducted September 9–23 finds President Donald Trump with a sizable lead over Democratic nominee Joe Biden among likely voters with evangelical beliefs. Deep divides, however, persist among evangelicals across ethnic lines.

Overall, 61 percent of evangelicals by belief plan to vote for Trump and 29 percent for Biden. Other candidates garner around 2 percent combined. Fewer than 1 in 10 (8%) are undecided.

Evangelicals by belief are also twice as likely to identify as a Republican (51%) than a Democrat (23%). One in five (20%) say they are independent.

“Voting for or against an incumbent president is a more certain situation for voters,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “Fewer Americans, including those with evangelical beliefs, are on the fence than at this same point in 2016.”

Presidential preferences

Voting plans for Americans without evangelical beliefs are almost the mirror opposite of their evangelical counterparts, with Biden holding a commanding 56 percent to 33 percent lead over Trump.

President Trump’s advantage among evangelicals, however, comes primarily from white evangelicals, among whom he leads Biden 73 percent to 18 percent.

African Americans with evangelical beliefs overwhelmingly plan to vote for Biden (69% to 19%). Among American evangelicals of other ethnicities, however, Trump has a 58 percent to 32 percent lead.

Compared to a previous LifeWay Research survey conducted in the months leading up to the 2016 election, more white evangelicals say they plan to vote for Trump this time (73% to 65%). However, more also say they plan to vote for Biden than said they planned to vote for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee four years ago, (18% to 10%).

While almost a quarter of white evangelicals were undecided or supporters of a third party in 2016, few say the same in 2020. Only 2 percent back a third-party candidate this year, compared to 8 percent four years ago. And while 16 percent were undecided in 2016, that number fell to 7 percent this year.

Individuals with evangelical beliefs who identify with the two largest political parties plan to be loyal to their party’s candidate. Among Republicans with evangelical beliefs, 91 percent say they are voting for Trump. Eight in ten Democrats with evangelical beliefs (81%) support Biden.

“Different ethnic groups are more attuned to specific failures of our country and of specific candidates,” said McConnell. “One’s ethnicity and political party are more powerful in predicting the vote of someone with evangelical beliefs than their shared religious convictions alone.”

Among likely voters who identify as Christian and attend church at least once a month, support for Trump and Biden is evenly split (46% to 45%). As with evangelicals, ethnic divides are also present among churchgoers.

White churchgoers back Trump 59 percent to 30 percent, while African American churchgoers are solidly behind Biden (86% to 9%). The former vice president also has a sizeable—though smaller—lead among Hispanic churchgoers (58% to 36%) and churchgoers of other ethnicities (49% to 36%).

Economy and COVID-19 outrank abortion

Improving the economy and fighting the pandemic are the top characteristics registered voters say they are looking for in a presidential candidate. Evangelicals agree but are much more likely to also point to abortion and religious liberty as factors.

A majority of registered voters say an ability to improve the economy (72%), slowing the spread of COVID-19 (58%) and maintaining national security (55%) are important factors in deciding their vote.

Close to half say the same about addressing racial injustice, personal character, and the candidate’s position on immigration.

In the survey, which began prior to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, a third (33%) say likely Supreme Court nominees are an important factor. Similar numbers point to the candidate’s ability to protect religious freedom, their position on abortion, and their position on the size and role of government.

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Source: Christianity Today