JERUSALEM – Donald Trump knows he could not even have won the Republican nomination the first time, much less the presidency, without Evangelical Christians.
“I won with Evangelicals in the primaries,” he told a conference of pastors in August 2016. “I would go into a state – and remember at the beginning I would go in and they would say, ‘Well, he can’t win that state because that’s Evangelicals,’ and then I would win with the Evangelicals in massive numbers.”
In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in 2016, Trump said, “I would like to thank the Evangelical community who have been so good to me and so supportive.”
He hasn’t stopped thanking – or courting – Evangelicals ever since.
But new evidence suggests that Trump actually lost significant Evangelical support making an already razor-thin race that much closer.
If Trump ends up losing his re-election bid – and that is far from clear, but certainly possible – his trouble with a small but important percentage of Evangelicals could prove decisive.
At the moment, it is impossible to know for sure who will win, Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden.
Counting continues, and litigation could take the final results all the way to the Supreme Court.
One thing is clear, however.
According to an exclusive exit poll commissioned by ALL ISRAEL NEWS, Trump underperformed among Evangelicals from 2016, and Biden over performed, as compared to Hillary Clinton.
ALL ISRAEL NEWS hired a trusted and widely respected U.S. polling firm – McLaughlin & Associates – to ask Americans who actually voted in this election a series of questions. The poll surveyed 1,000 voters and had a margin of error of +/-3.1 percent.
This is the first of several articles ALL ISRAEL NEWS will publish on our exit poll.
Since ALL ISRAEL NEWS is non-profit and non-partisan, we took no position on which candidate or party should win.
Our goal was to help Israelis, Sunni Arabs in the region, and the 600 million Evangelicals around the world – including the 60 million Evangelicals in the U.S. – to better understand the social, religious, cultural and political dynamics at play inside the world’s largest democracy and only superpower.
After all, whoever does win the American presidency, and control of the House and Senate, will shape U.S. policy towards Israel, the broader Middle East and North Africa in ways that will affect hundreds of millions of people for the next four years, and possibly beyond.
WHAT WE FOUNDNot surprisingly, our exit poll found that Trump won the white, born-again, Evangelical Christian vote decisively.
This is more than any Republican presidential candidate in the last 20 years – except Trump himself in 2016.
In 2016, Trump won 81 percent of Evangelicals, according data from Pew Research.
This year, only 79.4 percent of Evangelicals voted for Trump.
That 1.6-point decline could end up costing Trump the presidency.
Biden, on the other hand, won 18.6 percent of the Evangelical vote.
This is 2.6-points higher than Hillary Clinton, who won only 16 percent of the Evangelical vote in 2016, according to Pew.
WHAT WENT WRONG?How is it possible that Trump lost ground with Evangelicals?
This is a question that Evangelical leaders who supported Trump – some of whom advised Trump – are going to have to study carefully and explain.
Trump, after all, chose a prominent Evangelical – Mike Pence – to serve as his vice president.
Other Evangelicals have served in top positions in the Trump administration, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, White House press secretaries Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kayleigh McEnany, and many others.
Trump set up an Evangelical advisory council that has met with him regular to discuss policy and to pray.
Trump also aggressively advanced policies at home and abroad that were favorable to Evangelicals.
He appointed pro-life Supreme Court justices and federal judges, signed numerous pro-life executive orders, proved a passionate and consistent defender of Israel, brokered three historic Arab-Israeli peace treaties and vocally advanced religious freedom at home and abroad.
Trump was proud of each these moves and signaled he was doing them, in part, out of his gratitude to the Evangelical community.
“We moved the capital of Israel to Jerusalem – that’s for the Evangelicals,” Trump said on the campaign trail in Wisconsin in August, referring to his December 2017 decision to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to a southern neighborhood of Jerusalem.
“Every Democratic candidate running for president is trying to punish religious believers and silence our churches,” Trump told a church audience in Miami last January. “This election is about the survival of our nation.”
“We will not allow faithful Americans to be bullied by the far left, we’re not going to allow it,” Trump added. “And we get involved with many of these cases and nobody sees us coming. Very soon I’ll be taking action to safeguard students’ and teachers’ First Amendment rights to pray in our schools.”
That said, some Evangelicals – not most, by any means – who I have interviewed all across the U.S. told me they simply could not look past what they regard as Trump’s character problems.
They criticized, in their words, Trump’s “mishandling” of the COVID-19 pandemic, his “inflammatory” tweets, his “disastrous” and “distasteful” first debate performance, his “unkindness” towards his political rivals and opponents, his perceived “dishonesty” on various topics, his “chaotic” and “exhausting” manner of governance, and his “weird” photo op in front of a church in Washington that had been burned by rioters, to name just a few of their complaints.
Some told me they were inclined to sit out the election.
Others in recent months told me they were probably going to vote for Biden.
While Trump was right when he would often say that Evangelicals were overwhelmingly backing him, he did not seem to adequately appreciate the fact that he was also driving some Evangelicals away.
This is something I had been writing and speaking about for some time – publicly as well with Evangelical leaders and grassroots activists, and senior Trump advisors.
On Oct. 14, 2019, for example, I tweeted that, “the risk for President Trump isn’t that Evangelicals will turn against him. The risk is that a small percentage of the Evangelicals who voted for him in 2016 will stay home in 2020 if they’re not happy about what’s going on in the country and the world.”
As late as Monday, Nov. 1, I wrote:
“The vast majority of American Evangelicals are voting for the President’s re-election. But not all. Some are so turned off by his Tweets, first debate performance and other behavior that they plan to stay home and not vote, or to vote for Biden and Harris.
These are self-inflicted wounds on Trump’s part.
His policies, his promises kept, his team and his party’s platform should be convincing to all Evangelicals, compared to the pro-abortion-on-demand position of Biden and the Democrats. But Trump’s behavior has made it very difficult.
Let’s be clear: if Trump and Pence lose just 1 percent of the Evangelical vote, especially in critical battleground states, the pro-life position of the current federal government will not only be lost but dramatically, aggressively reversed.”
Other Evangelical reporters and commentators were raising the issue, as well.
“Here’s the problem for Trump: he needs to be at 81 percent or north to win re-election – any slippage and he doesn’t get a second term, and that’s where Joe Biden comes into play,” David Brody, chief political analyst at the Christian Broadcasting Network, told Politico. “In this environment, with everything from the coronavirus to George Floyd and Trump calling himself the ‘law-and-order president,’ Biden could potentially pick off a percent or two from that 81 percent number.”
In December 2019, Christianity Today magazine – founded by the late Billy Graham – published an editorial calling for Trump to be removed from office.
Last month, John Piper – a prominent Evangelical theologian, pastor and author based in Minneapolis – published an essay on his blog “explaining why I won’t be voting for Biden or Trump.”
The backlash from pro-Trump Evangelicals came quickly, but perhaps missed in the brouhaha was that Piper was speaking for a small but significant number of disaffected Evangelicals in a key battleground state – one that Trump was competing for intensely but has apparently lost.
It’s important to understand that fully 25 percent of all Americans identify themselves as “born again” Evangelical Christian Protestants.
Some are African American, Hispanic, Asian or from other ethnic backgrounds.
But 3-out-of-4 Evangelicals are white.
A single percentage point swing from one direction to another may sound small but it is not.
When it came to Congress, our exit poll found that 77.5 percent of Evangelicals voted for Republican candidates.
Only 19 percent voted for Democrats.
Interestingly, of Evangelicals who voted, far more (45.3 percent) voted on Election Day than the national average, while fewer Evangelicals (54.7 percent) voted early.
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.