No group of voters has been more supportive of President Trump than evangelicals. In April, Pew Research Center reported:
White evangelicals overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election and were a key part of his constituency. As his presidency nears the 100-day mark, surveys conducted since Trump’s inauguration tell a similar story.
Three-quarters of white evangelical Protestants approve of the way Trump is handling his job as president, according to a new analysis of Pew Research Center surveys conducted in February and April. This is nearly twice as high as the president’s approval rating with the general public (39%).
This has put them in the embarrassing position of justifying or ignoring his hateful rhetoric, attacks on immigrants, barrage of insults directed at evangelical-favorite Attorney General Jeff Sessions, incessant lying, worship of money and power (only billionaires and generals need apply for his Cabinet, authoritarians receive his praise, etc.), misogyny and other decidedly un-Christian behavior.
Iraq war veteran, writer and constitutional lawyer David French writes that “six months into a dysfunctional presidency, it’s time for Evangelicals to come to their senses.” Attributing their support for Trump as an expression of Hillary Clinton derangement syndrome, he advises:
It’s time to fully understand that Hillary is actually vanquished. There is absolutely no criticism of Trump that will cause her to parachute into the White House. Indeed, if the political crises grow increasingly grave, then the choice wouldn’t be Trump or Hillary but rather Trump or [VP Mike] Pence. Moreover, withholding criticism of Trump’s bad acts enables his worst behavior. Holding firm behind him no matter his actions reinforces his own view that “his people” support him unconditionally. Given his erratic behavior, that’s dangerous for him to believe. He should understand his political limits.
French, who is Christian, warns that the retreat from Trump is hindered by “powerful forces of opportunism and rationalization” who adore the proximity to power. (“Trump was able to appeal to the ambition of a motley collection of fading Christian stars. They’re with him, they gush about him as if he’s God’s great gift to America, and they’ll stay with him if he live-tweets himself murdering someone on Fifth Avenue.”)
French sees hope in a new generation of evangelicals who are not slave to anti-Clinton hysteria. A raft of data suggests that he’s on target.
Polling on millennials confirms that younger voters in general are much more anti-Trump than older Americans. The Post reported:
A new poll from GenForward, a polling and research organization focused on young adults and based out of the University of Chicago, found that 76 percent of African American millennials disapprove of the president and his dealings in the White House and only 10 percent approve. Meanwhile, 55 percent of white millennials disapprove of his job performance and 29 percent approve.
But white millennials are starting to lose confidence in the president quickly, according to the researchers. In a May GenForward poll, 47 percent of white millennials disapproved of Trump — less than half.
With regard to evangelicals specifically, there’s a mound of evidence suggesting that they see the country differently from older evangelicals — and in ways likely to put them at odds with Trump and his brand of nationalistic, nativist populism.
The Post reported in June: “According to Pew, 47 percent of Generation X/millennial evangelicals (those born after 1964) favor gay marriage, compared with 26 percent of boomer and older evangelicals (those born between 1928 and 1964).”
Likewise, a Public Religion Research Institute poll recently found that younger evangelicals are more sensitive to discrimination experienced by other groups, more welcoming of immigrants and more supportive of gay rights than older evangelicals:
Half (50%) of Republicans under the age of 30 believe gay and lesbian people experience a lot of discrimination, a view shared by only about one-third (36%) of Republican seniors. Similarly, roughly six in ten (58%) young Republicans believe transgender people face discrimination while fewer than four in ten (38%) Republican seniors agree. . . .
Nearly six in ten (59%) young white evangelical Protestants, but only about four in ten (43%) white evangelical Protestant seniors, say gay and lesbian people face substantial discrimination. .
Younger white evangelical Protestants are considerably more supportive of giving legal status to illegal immigrants than their older counterparts. While nearly seven in ten (68%) white evangelical young adults say immigrants living in the country illegally should be allowed to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements, fewer than six in ten (58%) white evangelical seniors say the same.
And this divide extends beyond social issues. Pew found:
Millennials are more likely than older adults to take liberal positions on social and political issues. This generation gap exists even among evangelical Protestants – who constitute one of the country’s most conservative religious groups – in areas including same-sex marriage, immigration and environmentalism. . . . [Y]ounger evangelicals are more likely than their older co-religionists to favor stricter environmental laws and to say immigration makes the United States better. Similarly, evangelical Protestant Millennials are more likely to favor government aid to the poor and to prefer a bigger government with more services over a smaller one with fewer services. And they are less likely to say they are conservative, while slightly more likely to say they are politically moderate.
“Young people in general tend to be more idealistic and less partisan. So it’s not surprising that younger evangelicals, who believe in Christian ideals such as caring for the poor and conserving the environment, are asking questions and are not rubber stamps for the President simply because of his partisan affiliation,” emails Steven Olikara, who heads the nonpartisan Millennial Action Project (MAP), which aims to “re-establish political cooperation across parties and defeat the polarization and gridlock that is holding back our government and country.”
There are a few takeaways from this data. First, younger evangelicals, like all millennials, are less driven by party loyalty, more sensitive to discrimination, more tolerant of minority groups. Trump’s naked appeals to white resentment and his plays to his older, white Christian base (e.g. on transgender persons serving in the military) are likely to find less favor with younger evangelicals. Second, policy arguments based on moral appeals (e.g. care for the poor) may have much more sell with such voters than appeals dictated by party loyalty or derived from animosity and paranoia toward Democrats and cultural elites. Third, given the enormous age gap between old-guard evangelicals from the Reagan era (who have found renewed relevance in the Trump years) and millennials (the largest generation to date), there is opportunity for new leadership. Groups such as MAP are likely to find a receptive audience among evangelical millennials.
Once the stringent tribalism, noxious polarization and overt xenophobia are exposed and challenged, younger evangelicals — like all millennials — might very well recoil against their parents’ infatuation with Trump.