Date of Completion
Honors College Thesis
Type of Thesis
white evangelicals, Donald Trump, 2016 election, Republican, politics, America
In 2016 81% of self-identified white evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump in the Presidential election and continued to support him after (Smith & Martinez, 2016; Peters & Dias, 2018). White evangelicals were willing to back a Republican candidate that appeared to deviate from their normal expectations of morality. The relationship between the Republican Party and white evangelical Christians has existed since the election of Ronald Reagan. This project examines the political history of white evangelicals in the United States. It analyzes recent data to compare the differences between white evangelicals and the general population and analyzes reports on white evangelicals during and after the 2016 election. This information is used to establish long-term historical trends that show why white evangelicals showed strong support both during and after the 2016 election within the broader historical context of white evangelicals’ relationship with politics.
The results show that white evangelicals support for Trump is due to his alignment with their core political issues. Evangelicals as a political force are reactionary and established themselves in opposition to progressive change in the United States. Their core issues during their emergence have remained mostly consistent, and they have developed new core values in response to the United States’ changing political landscape. Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric match the white evangelical position on all their primary issues. In combination with this, evangelicals now care less about the personal morality of candidates than any other group which shows a change in how they view candidates. White evangelicals feel as though Donald Trump is on their side and since immoral personal conduct is no longer an issue, his behavior does not pose a significant obstacle to white evangelical support. In summation white evangelicals like other voters, support candidates who will address their issues of concern which is why they supported Donald Trump during the 2016 election and continued to support him afterward.
The results of this thesis confirm the findings of the majority of the scholarship on white evangelicals and Trump. Other research consistently concludes that white evangelicals support Trump because he is able to effectively address their fears about the direction that the United States is going and enacts regressive policies which suit their reactionary political agenda. Where the results diverge from previous work is on the matter of how to court evangelicals using religious rhetoric. Previous research has concluded that using religious rhetoric has been a necessary part of wooing the white evangelical voting bloc. This thesis shows that this rhetoric is no longer a requirement to gain white evangelical support. Today white evangelicals are more interested in enacting their values through policies than through a “Godly candidate”. Finally, this thesis goes beyond existing scholarship by placing the events of the 2016 election with the broader history of white evangelicals as reactionaries in American politics. It establishes that white evangelicals did not change radically as a group to accommodate Donald Trump. Their positions now are due to long term changes within the group and Trump’s populist policies addressing their long-term concerns. There is no evidence to suggest that their support will decline as he continues to accommodate their needs and further solidifies their ties to the Republican Party which is actively changing to support the president.
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Nelson, Megan T., "The Changing Values of American Evangelicals in Politics" (2019). UVM Honors College Senior Theses. 312.