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The Influence of Evangelicals on the 2016 Presidential Election

Through his travels and reading, Chris gathers information and writes about historical events and concepts that are often overlooked.

The Call: An Evangelical gathering in Washington DC, 2008.

The Call: An Evangelical gathering in Washington DC, 2008.

Evangelical Christians: The Powerhouse of the Republican Party

Evangelical Christians were ostensibly the voting block that decided the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. They were the powerhouse in the George W. Bush victory in 2004 and in congressional victories that followed. Without their support, Donald Trump would not have defeated Hillary Clinton.

According to a Pew Research exit poll, white Evangelicals voted 81% for Trump versus 16% for Clinton. They did, in fact, support Trump in even greater numbers than they did Bush, McCain, and Romney in the previous three presidential elections.

  • Bush in 2004: 78% of Evangelicals
  • McCain in 2008: 74% of Evangelicals
  • Romney in 2012: 78% of Evangelicals

Evangelicals Gather Prior to the 2008 Presidential Election

Without the Evangelical Vote, It Would Have Been Hillary Clinton by a Landslide

The thing to notice about the previously stated figures is the difference between the highest Evangelical percentage for a candidate in the recent past (78%) and their percentage for Trump in 2016 (81%). This 3% increase in Evangelical support is greater than any of Trump's victories in the swing states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida. Without the Evangelical vote, Hillary Clinton would have been elected president by an electoral landslide.

  • Wisconsin: 10 electoral votes
  • Michigan: 16 electoral votes
  • Florida: 29 electoral votes
  • Pennsylvania: 20 electoral votes
  • Total: 75 electoral votes

If Evangelicals had shown up in the same numbers as they did for Romney, McCain, and Bush, Hillary Clinton would have won 307 electoral votes compared to 231 for Trump.

Evangelicals Abandoned Their Social Agenda to Vote for Trump

Why did Evangelicals vote for Donald Trump in the primaries as well as the general election? In the past, the Evangelical platform included the following issues:

  • Pro-life, with a focus on overturning Roe vs. Wade.
  • Against same sex marriage.
  • Religious liberty.

But Donald Trump rarely talked of these matters during the campaign. In fact, during the primaries, he was clearly the most liberal Republican candidate on the LGBT issue. He had to be pressed hard on the topic of abortion.

Again, why did Evangelicals vote for Trump when he did not aggressively represent them on the issues that have been so important to them in the recent past? I believe there are two reasons for the monumental Evangelical influence on this election.

Two Reasons Evangelicals Came Out in Record Numbers for Trump

Economic Concerns

The first reason Evangelicals supported Trump is that since the economic downturn in 2008, Evangelicals, like everyone else, have been focused on the economy. Even for this voting block, which historically has been consumed with a handful of social issues, the bottom line is the bottom line. They voted for the man they felt could deliver on economic issues. Evangelical interest in the economy in the 2016 election might be seen as the next step in their takeover of the Republican party. They already set the social agenda, and now they have weighed in on the fiscal side.

Activation of Evangelical Voters

There is a second reason Evangelicals turned out in record numbers in support of Donald Trump. Two non-profit organizations delivered the Evangelical vote on November 8, 2016. One was the Faith and Freedom Foundation, headed by Ralph Reed. The other was the Decision America Tour/Lift the Vote, led by Franklin Graham.

Following the election, Ralph Reed said that "[in] the Faith & Freedom Coalition phone bank operation, a universe of 15.6 million conservative Christians living in 9.5 million households were identified in 11 key battleground states. The phone banks were tied to the outreach field operation that sent 26 million cell phone ads to 3.8 million targeted voters. We were knocking on doors. We knocked on 1,253,778 doors in the top 11 states. We were distributing voter guides. We were dropping mail–all these things."

Lift the Vote engaged in the fifty state Decision America Tour, led by Franklin Graham, to motivate Evangelicals to vote in the general election. Breitbart News quoted a spokesperson for Lift the Vote as saying that "Lift the Vote had three buses on the road in key battleground states between September 16 and November 8, Election Day, which made stops in eight battleground states: Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina, Florida, and Virginia. The group “distributed stickers proclaiming ‘I’m a Christian. I’m Voting!’ to over 400,000 people as a crucial part of the ‘high touch/boots-on-the-ground’ voter turnout initiative...”

It is important to note that Lift the Vote did not press people to vote for a political candidate, but to vote according to Christian values. Evidently, most felt Donald Trump represented those values better than Hillary Clinton.

This aspect of the 2016 presidential election has implications for the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, Evangelical Christians, and the nation in general.

Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition on CNN, October 19, 2015

Implications for the Democratic Party

The Democratic Party can no longer afford to ignore or belittle Evangelical voters. They must build a bridge to a significant number of these people and win them over. This will be a difficult task since most Evangelicals see democrats as opposing biblical values. But progress could be made if democrats get creative on how they market their pro-choice beliefs. They could emphasize their support for contraception being made available to everyone, regardless of age and without parental consent. The focus would be on preventing pregnancy and negating the need for an abortion. There is common ground here between many Evangelicals and democrats.

Implications for the Republican Party

In the 1980s and before, Evangelicals were an arm of the Republican Party. Now they are its head. Is this how a political party operates? Do they allow a particular segment of their number to have such overwhelming influence? It is difficult to see them doing otherwise at this point in history. The tail is wagging the dog and the mutt seems fairly content.

Implications for Evangelicals

The big issue before Evangelical Christians is whether the political arena is the most appropriate place for them to carry out their mission in the world. But before they can even deal with that issue, they need to rediscover what that mission is. They are, according to their own scriptures, to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Is that mission most effectively carried out by being the key influence in choosing the leaders of a nation?

Implications for the Nation in General

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, the US was being governed by leaders chosen by a relatively small number of people. The only way Evangelicals were able to sway this election was when 41% of eligible voters chose to stay home on election day as they did on November 8, 2016.

The Big Story About the 2016 Presidential Election

Donald Trump became President of the United States of America. That is a fact that cannot be undone. His victory was a result of an election governed by the Constitution. The big story about the presidential election of 2016 was not that Evangelicals swayed the election (after all, they have a right to vote). The headline was that 82 million out of 200 million registered voters thought so little about the path down which this country was headed that they didn't even attempt to vote.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.


Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on March 11, 2017:

Ron, thank you for your excellent response to this hub. I appreciate the clarity and honesty contained here.

Ronald E Franklin from Mechanicsburg, PA on March 10, 2017:

In my opinion, Donald Trump is not a good representative of the name of Jesus Christ. But what the 80% of evangelicals who voted for him, and still vociferously support him, have done is to tie the Christian faith to the name and behavior of President Trump in the minds of the general public. To the world in general, "Trump" and "evangelical Christian" now go together.

I won't run through the extensive catalog of immoral actions and words, lies, insults, and disrespect for minorities that the name Trump is now associated with in the eyes of most Americans, and indeed, most people throughout the world. Even those who continue to support the president must know that very few people associate his name with righteousness or godly love for the poor and desperate in our world. And now evangelicals have tied the name of Christ to a man that millions of people believe to be the antithesis of all that is moral or good.

The point is that if the mission of evangelicals is sharing the good news of salvation in Christ with a world that desperately needs to hear and believe it, tying the words "Christian" and "Trump" together is not a good way to further that mission.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on December 16, 2016:

I agree Bill, and the same thing goes for the Republican Party and any other political party. Currently they are all manipulators, attempting to persuade us to follow their agenda. That is not what government is about. They are to see the needs of those they serve and attempt to meet those needs. They are servants first, leaders second. I'm sure they think that is what they are doing, but in reality, their efforts are aimed at carrying them on to the next level of the bureaucracy. Our votes are the vehicle on which they ride to the top.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 16, 2016:

Your last point is perhaps the most important one. The Democratic Party needs to regroup and take a look at the many errors in their platform. It is high time for a major change within the party.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on December 15, 2016:

Thanks, Chris. :-) I keep hoping Mr. Trump will surprise me; so far, he hasn't. What I find troubling are those voters who think he isn't qualified to be president, do not respect him, nor do they think he has the temperament to take over the Oval Office...but voted for him anyway. For me, that was the biggest wake-up call of all.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on December 15, 2016:

Genna, your long post is welcome. Many believe this is a low point in American politics, at least it seems they feel this way. I'm not so sure. The candidates certainly made the choice difficult. The behavior of both was sometimes disgusting. But I think it woke us up to the importance of the process. More people than ever understand the Electoral college and the reason it exists. We may not agree about whether or not it is a good thing in the modern era, but we at least understand it. I think people realized how much they love this country and want the best for everyone. Of course we disagree on what the best is, but our love of country has been awakened. It will take time to heal. It will be interesting to see what the results will be. It will also be interesting to watch Trump attempt to govern. It will be both educational and entertaining I am sure. I think, I hope, we will all be surprised.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on December 15, 2016:

What an interesting article, Chris. Thank you. I think the Clinton campaign also underestimated the extent to which many wanted change -- one of the key reasons Barack Obama won back in 2008. Remember how McCain made a point of trying to look like the rogue, the maverick of the political establishment?

And we can't take Ivanka and Jared Kushner out of the picture. They pushed for Pence on the ticket (a plus for Evangelicals), which apparently took a lot of convincing. If it hadn't been for his daughter's influence, I don't think Mr. Trump would have won, given his preferences for VP at the time, the urging to dump Lewandowski as campaign manager, the need to stop Twittering so often with the negative bullying, and other aspects. I don't believe Ivanka was involved from early on in the general election, solely "for Dad." She has a huge stake in the Trump Organization; it is her legacy and her children's as well.

Trump's win was the perfect storm or confluence of factors: The wooing of Evangelical voters in record numbers; the war of demographics in the battleground and rust belt states; the Hillary haters; the single issue voter; the fallout from the constant e-mail leaks (we'll never know how much Russia's hacking impacted the election); Comey's October bomb; and more.

I know people who voted on Nov. 8th, but not for either presidential candidate; choosing instead to write someone in or ignore it altogether. They didn't want to be forced, as they viewed it, into "voting for the lesser of two evils." If you ask them why they didn't vote, they will say, "I did. I said, "No."

What I find annoying are the Trump surrogates who constantly opine that we "cannot ignore the wishes of the 64 million people who voted for him." Okay...that's fair. But what about the wishes of 76% of all eligible voters who didn't?

Sorry for the long post. :-)

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on December 15, 2016:

Eric, there seems to be an epidemic of thin skin. Good debate gets lost and insults take over. I appreciate your comment.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on December 14, 2016:

Becky, I had a book written in response to your post here, but somehow I deleted it. Thank you for your candid reply to my hub. The answer has been right there before us for so many years regarding the abortion issue. We just have to use the intelligence God gave us. You said it very simply and very well. "Birth control should be taken care of before sex." How did we miss that all those years. Thanks for visiting.

Leslie McCowen from Cape Cod, USA on December 14, 2016:

it was a christian calling someone a lying, treasonous piece of ___ . not one word of condemnation from any fellow christians.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on December 14, 2016:

It is a constant amazement to me that progressives hurl insults upon evangelicals. Don't they get it, that that is a sign the Christian is doing it right? In today's crazy offense taking atmosphere, it is almost like the Christian has to be hated in order to be a Christian.

Offense at this and offense at that, wow if you are not offended you are a whacko.

I loved your stats here. Alone we almost get insecure in our beliefs. It is good to see just how many millions there are that get it.

HP is very cool in that Christians can do battle with Christians about dogma and doctrine but when it comes our real vote we basically stand united.

Becky Katz from Hereford, AZ on December 14, 2016:

Chris, I loved your hub. The thing that influenced me the most was that I did not think it would be good for my country to have Hillary in office. I did not think it would be good to have Trump in office either, but felt we could use someone that cares about the economic issues. I am a Christian and truly do not believe any of our past 10 Presidents are really Christians. (You shall know them by their works). I feel that birth control should be taken care of before sex. I do not believe that rape babies should be forced on the mother. If you do not want more babies, take the pill and use a condom. That is what my husband and I did and it does work. Alternatively, get your tubes tied. I do not have a problem with most of the work of Planned Parenthood and do not believe that we should pay for someone to have an abortion. I do believe that the rest of the work they do is awesome. You should be able to keep from having a baby if you do not want one. It just takes a little bit of planning. I really was disappointed in the quality of candidates we were offered for this Presidential election. We had a choice between bad and worse. Just which we elected was which we deemed worst.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on December 14, 2016:

lovemychris, I'm with you on that one, all the way.

Leslie McCowen from Cape Cod, USA on December 14, 2016:

well, i can surely go along with that. treat people humanely, instead of treating them like dirty criminals. for what? for being human.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on December 14, 2016:

Reminder to everyone. The topic here is how Evangelicals carried Trump to victory in the election. There are lots of issues this brings up. The willingness of Evangelicals to drop their traditional agendas is one of those issues.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on December 14, 2016:

Lovemychris, Now you've offered something for dialogue and I appreciate it. Yes, Trump did begin the campaigning with some absolute statements. But he did soften that. He has said more recently that he wants a ban on muslim immigration from specific places where they can't be properly vetted. Yes, he did say that as well. There is no way all muslim immigration will be blocked. Trump has backed off from the extreme statement that he should not have made in the first place. No, he did not say all Mexicans are rapists and murderers. I think that accusation can be dropped. Yes, he did say abortion should be a punishable offense. That's another one he should have kept his trap closed on, but he didn't. It's also another idea that won't see the light of day. Conservatives are stuck on some issues and they need to get out of the mire. Suggesting that everyone stop having sex outside of marriage is a foolish idea. No, it is a dangerous idea if it is the only solution for the abortion issue. They need to get on board with contraception being made available to anyone, of any age without parental consent. That will have an effect on the abortion rate. The old tactics of conservatives are useless, futile, pointless and sometimes very dangerous. I have always been anti abortion, but I am willing to look at creative ways to achieve fewer abortions. Planned Parenthood is no longer a dirty word to me. They have been trying to get contraception into the hands of young people for years but have been prevented by conservatives. Yes, conservatives blocked the very thing that would have resulted in fewer abortions. It is my opinion that the pro-life movement is responsible for more abortions than anyone involved in the debate. That is coming from someone who spent decades on the pro life side. It's time to change our strategies and find answers that really work.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on December 14, 2016:

Larry, you hit the nail on the head regarding Trump and Evangelical agendas. At least for this election cycle, Evangelicals abandoned their traditional issues and went with the economy. You aren't the only person perplexed but that oddity. I don't expect them to give up on their agendas, but it would be refreshing if they tried some different solutions.

Leslie McCowen from Cape Cod, USA on December 14, 2016:

ok....you mean like calling someone a lying treasonous piece of ---. oh, no. that wasnt me, that was charly. i notice you dont reprimand him. ?? and trump said "mexicans who come to this country are rapists and murderers...some, i assume are good people." and "i,donald j trump am calling for a complete and total ban on all muslims entering this country until we can figure out whats going on." and yes, he did say there has to be some punishment for having an abortion...im sorry, if you want a discussion, it has to be honest.

and im all for preventing unwanted pregnancies. but i think most conservatives take that to mean, "dont have sex", or "im not paying for your birth control pills"...even though women are in the workforce, and deserve birth control in healthplans just as much as viagra is in there for men.

we need to separate gvt from religion. people govern from the pews, and thats not what america stands for.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on December 14, 2016:

What confuses me is that Trump didn't really embrace any of the main evangelical agendas. He has mainly been pro-abortion his whole life and is just a non-factor on other primary religious issues.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on December 14, 2016:

lovemychris, I don't delete comments in my hubs, so you'll have to live with the things you say and the attitude you say them with. You have completely changed what Trump said to make it what you wanted to hear. His comments about women were completely out of line. He gets no pass from me on those. He did not say all Mexicans are rapists and he did not say all Muslims should be banned. You have made these same comments elsewhere and have had the truth pointed out. You simply keep saying them. You are not helping the dialogue at all. I hope you feel free to continue commenting here, but I am looking for real, constructive input.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on December 14, 2016:

Charlie, certainly Trump does not hold his tongue. Maybe there were a few times in his life when that might have been wise, but in the campaigning, he was saying exactly what he thought, and that is refreshing.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on December 14, 2016:

lovemychris, I'd appreciate a more constructive approach here please.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on December 14, 2016:

Minnetonka Twin, nice to see you here today. Yes, this was an election to top all bizarre elections. History books will have fun with this one.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on December 14, 2016:

Ruby, nice to see you. You bring up the very reason overturning Roe v Wade is a futile cause. It will not stop abortions. It might make conservatives feel good for a while, but they will have accomplished nothing useful. Preventing unwanted/unintended pregnancies is the only way to fight this battle. And people from both sides of the issue really can meet in the middle to work together. The sooner we get started the more unborn will be saved the tragedy of abortion. Thanks for the comment.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on December 14, 2016:

Charlie, we are on a roll.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on December 14, 2016:

Becky, no, not offended. These issues bring up strong emotions, I know that very well. I'm glad you read the article and took time to comment.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on December 14, 2016:

MsDora, I am in total agreement about the cherry picking Evangelicals do. We need to stop trying to make all conservative candidates into model Christians. They just aren't. We need to say that they represent our views on certain points. We don't have to whitewash the candidates. They are all imperfect men and women.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on December 14, 2016:

Sharlee01, welcome to my hub. I don't think I have seen you here before. You are a fellow Michigander, I see. I appreciate your comment on the hub. I'll take Christian charities, government programs, liberal outreaches, anything if it truly helps people. We can appreciate the good in the things that anyone does. We may have to ignore what we disagree with. Fighting and putting up walls will only prolong the dysfunction that has characterized the history of politics in our country. Thanks for stopping by. I hope you visit again.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on December 14, 2016:

lovemychris, I understand what you are saying in your first post. Walls have been built up over decades between liberals and conservatives on the subjects of birth control and abortion. I am suggesting a new approach. The old one, which you and many others are still operating under, has failed. I was part of the conservative side, your side. I had to admit that the old approach was not working. The new way of dealing with the abortion issue is not by overturning Roe v Wade. It is not by legislation outlawing abortions. It is by preventing pregnancies and everyone can agree on that. Yes, there is common ground if we will open our eyes and see it.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on December 14, 2016:

I want to jump in and moderate for a moment. I am asking each of you who would like to comment here to use it as a comment to me. That is how comments on hubs work. If you want to communicate with each other, go to one of the forum/Q-A topics and carry on your conversation there. No problem up to this point, but I'd like to keep it civil here and stay on the topic of the hub. Thanks, Chris

Leslie McCowen from Cape Cod, USA on December 14, 2016:

yes, its good that men can grab womens private parts, women need to be punished, hillary is the most corrupt politician out there, mexicans are rapists, muslims need to be banned, and putin would never ever do anything wrong.

my offense is not respected. but evangelicans who are offended by me have all due respect, don't they?

you all do not own america, opinions, or the right to voice them. on hubpages you do, but not in real life.

charlie from From Kingdom of God living on Planet earth in between the oceans on December 14, 2016:

love my chris-- your comment offends me. so you would prefer a lying, treasonist piece of---- instead. Trump has the nerve to say what needs to be said so if he offend you-GOOD.

Leslie McCowen from Cape Cod, USA on December 14, 2016:

I find trumps denigrating and hateful words offensive. and you who voted for him own that.

and most charities i see are catholic.....dont evangelicals consider them a "cult"?

Linda Rogers from Minnesota on December 14, 2016:

Great information on the 2016 presidential election. This election will surely go down in history as one of the craziest.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on December 14, 2016:

I wish the people who want to do away with a woman's right to choose could've been in the operating room with me and Dr.----- on the day this woman walked into the hospital with blood dripping down both legs. She'd attempted to abort at home, using a coat hanger. This was before Roe V Wade. She had seven children at home, two years apart and poor to boot. I did not judge her then and I do not judge her today. ( Walk a mile in my shoes comes to mind here. ) I am a person who attends church regularly. I am spiritual. I believe in God, yet I support a woman's right to choose. Shame on the 82 million people who didn't vote. You will be crying in the days to come. Chris this is a very informative article. Thank you for sharing....

charlie from From Kingdom of God living on Planet earth in between the oceans on December 14, 2016:

excellent. that makes 2

Becky Katz from Hereford, AZ on December 14, 2016:

Sharlee, I totally agree with you. lovemychris obviously does not know a real Christian, just some cheap holiday pew filler. I am a real Christian and find her views offensive also. She is wrong in so many ways. Sorry cam for saying this in your comments. I hope you are not offended.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on December 14, 2016:

Personally, I'm confused when evangelicals talk about supporting Christian values, because they seem to select one value for their focus, and ignore the lack of other values in the candidate they prefer. That aside, your closing sentence deserves serious consideration. Your article was balanced and well-presented.

Sharlee on December 14, 2016:

I can only speak for myself, but I was influenced by the support of the evangelicals. I m a Christian and support Christian values. Again just giving my opinion. I rake a bit of offence on "lovemychris's opinion" There are more Christian charities across the world than any Goverment programs for the poor. The money that Christian charities spend is from donations from Christians that care, not tax payers funds. We give from the heart....

Leslie McCowen from Cape Cod, USA on December 14, 2016:

no, democrats do not need to reach out to evangelicals.

the party platform is freedom of choice for women. evangelicals are anti abortion. there is no common ground, as they seek to take away federal funding for birth control, womens health and anything having to do with helping poor children.

the gap in values is too deep to bridge. they wont be satisfied until we are all under their thumb.

in my opinion, and after so many years of living in usa.

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