Trump Not Yet Generating Evangelical Republican Zeal

Trump Not Yet Generating Evangelical Republican Zeal

Trump Not Yet Generating Evangelical Republican Zeal

The FINANCIAL -- Highly religious white Protestant Republicans, a core group whose support presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump sought last week, are slightly more positive about Trump now than they were from February to May.

However, this group remains no more likely to view Trump favorably than are white Protestant Republicans who are moderately or not religious. In contrast, while he was still in the race, former candidate Ted Cruz's appeal was significantly higher among highly religious members of this group than among those who were less religious.

These differences in attitudes toward the candidates are based on Gallup Daily tracking interviews conducted from February through May and June 1-22. Gallup classifies Americans as highly religious, moderately religious or not religious based on their self-reports of whether religion is important to them and how frequently they attend religious services.

Trump clearly considers evangelicals to be an important target for his presidential campaign. Last week, he met with nearly 1,000 Christian evangelical leaders in New York, with the presumed objective of shoring up his support and, ultimately, turnout among that group. He released a photo of himself and Christian conservative leader Jerry Falwell, Jr.; took a swipe at Hillary Clinton's religiousness, saying, "We don't know anything about Hillary in terms of religion"; and appointed a 21-person evangelical advisory board.

There is no universally agreed-upon definition of exactly who is and who is not an "evangelical," but the label typically refers to individuals who are highly religious and identify with a non-Catholic Christian (Protestant) faith. White Protestants who are highly religious are particularly important in a political context, because black Americans' views of the candidates appear to be more related to their race than their religiosity. For example, about two-thirds or more of blacks have positive opinions of Clinton regardless of their religiosity, and only 10% in any of the three religious categories view Trump favorably.

Highly religious white Americans skew Republican, but some of this group are Democrats, and thus are unlikely to vote for Trump. Therefore, the data on highly religious white Protestant Republicans serve as a good representation of evangelicals as they are usually considered. And, as seen, while white Republican Protestants overall have positive opinions of Trump, their opinions are broadly similar, regardless of religiosity.

In short, among Protestants -- once partisanship and race are taken into account -- religiosity doesn't appear to make much of a difference in views of Trump. This stands in contrast to this group's views of Cruz earlier this year, when he was still an active candidate for the GOP nomination. At that point, white Protestant Republicans who were highly religious were significantly more positive about Cruz than were those who were either moderately or not religious.

Implications

Based on personality, history and other factors, it's not clear whether Trump will ever generate the type of differentially strong appeal among evangelicals as was the case for Cruz. But, in terms of sheer numbers alone -- 54% of white Protestant Republicans are highly religious -- if there is a way for Trump to increase his image and support among this group, it would appear to have significant upside potential for his campaign.