Survey: White Evangelicals See Trump As 'Honest' And 'Morally Upstanding'

Mar 12, 2020
Originally published on March 12, 2020 8:21 pm

White evangelicals in the United States, the core of President Donald Trump's political base, have far more positive views of his personal conduct and character than other U.S. adults.

By a nearly 2-to-1 margin, white evangelicals are more likely than other Americans to say the terms "morally upstanding" and "honest" describe Trump at least "fairly well," according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center.

The evangelical assessment does come with some reservations. Only about 15% of white evangelicals, for example, say "morally upstanding" describes Trump "very well," while another 45% say the term applies to Trump "fairly well." Two-thirds of U.S. adults as a whole say that characterization fits him "not too well" or "not at all well."

The evangelical view of Trump stands out not just by its divergence from the broader U.S. opinion, but by its apparent disconnect from conventional standards. Almost two-thirds of white evangelicals see Trump as at least "somewhat religious," despite his profanity, his sporadic church attendance, and his evident unfamiliarity with the Bible.

One explanation for white evangelicals' attachment to Trump is that they see him as a political ally. The Pew survey found that 63% of white evangelical Protestants believe their side has been "winning politically" under the Trump presidency. That's a dramatic turnaround from 2016, when less than one in four white evangelicals saw themselves as on the winning side.

The Pew results also show white evangelical Christians as showing support for a version of Judeo-Christian nationalism. More than 90% say they want their president to stand up not only for religious beliefs in general, but for their religious beliefs in particular, including biblical teaching.

Nine in 10 white evangelicals say they want the Bible to have "at least some influence" on U.S. laws, according to the Pew findings.

"Two-thirds of them go a step further," notes Greg Smith, the associate director of religion research at Pew. "They say that if and when the Bible conflicts with the will of the American people, the Bible should have more influence on the laws of the land."

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

White evangelicals in the United States have consistently been among President Trump's strongest supporters. Now a new survey shows how sharply their view of the president differs from the opinions of other Americans. Here's NPR's Tom Gjelten.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: A new survey from the Pew Research Center was carried out just last month. Some findings reflect those from earlier surveys. Three-quarters of white evangelicals approve of Trump or agree with his positions. But this survey digs deeper, asking people - both evangelicals and U.S. adults as a whole - whether they see Trump as morally upstanding or honest. Greg Smith directs religion research at Pew.

GREG SMITH: Six in 10 white evangelical Protestants say the term morally upstanding describes Donald Trump at least fairly well. That's double the rate that we see among the population as a whole. Seven in 10 say the term honest describes Donald Trump at least fairly well. That's twice as high as what we see among the public as a whole.

GJELTEN: The evangelical view of Trump stands out not just by its divergence from the general view but by its apparent disconnect from normal standards. Almost two-thirds of white evangelicals see Trump as at least somewhat religious despite his profanity, his sporadic church attendance and his evident unfamiliarity with the Bible. One key to the evangelical devotion to Trump - they see him as being on their side. More than 90% say they want their president to stand up not just for religious beliefs in general but for their religious beliefs in particular. The findings show support for a kind of Judeo-Christian nationalism among white evangelicals. Again, Pew researcher Greg Smith.

SMITH: Nine in 10 white evangelical Protestants say they want the Bible to have at least some influence or a great deal of influence on the laws of the United States. And many of them - two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants - go a step further, and they say that if and when the Bible conflicts with the will of the American people, the Bible should have more influence on the laws of the land.

GJELTEN: From the evangelical point of view, the Trump presidency has been good news. Almost 2 out of 3 evangelicals now see their side as winning politically. Four years ago, only about 1 out of 4 said that.

Tom Gjelten, NPR News.

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