Evangelicals For Biden?
©Getty Images/Scott Olsen
As the presidential election is now just less than four months away, polling season is finally in full swing. Unfortunately for President Trump and his hopes for a second term in the Oval Office, almost every respected poll observes that he is trailing Joe Biden by a significant margin. In nearly every meaningful swing state from Pennsylvania to Arizona, the president must make up gaps of ten to fifteen points to even have a shot at keeping his job.
The polls are clear: this is Joe Biden's race to lose. But if the former vice president wants to put a more comfortable distance between himself and the incumbent, he must intentionally appeal to a few additional demographics not typically associated with the Democratic party, beginning with white evangelical Christians.
Historically, the white evangelical Protestant vote has belonged to the Republican party. Ronald Reagan enjoyed the support of Jerry Falwell's powerful Moral Majority, and born-again Christian George W. Bush appealed to religious conservatives with his compassionate conservatism. Eight out of ten white evangelicals cast their vote for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in the hyper-polarized 2016 election, and as of March, seventy-seven percent of the same demographic still approved of Trump's presidency according to a highly regarded PRRI poll.
President Trump realizes, as he should, that politically-minded evangelicals got him elected and a strong evangelical turnout in his favor is his best hope for reelection. Trump has spent quite a bit of time and energy appealing to his evangelical supporters, from his selection of the evangelical poster boy Mike Pence as vice-president to his recent controversial photo op at St. John's Church. Some of his efforts have backfired spectacularly, such as his misinformed reference to "One Corinthians" during a speech at Falwell's Liberty University.
Unfortunately for the president, his once favorable poll numbers among evangelicals, many of whom reside in red states at the heart of so-called "Trump country," have eroded. In an early June follow-up to the previously referenced PRRI poll, evangelical approval of the Trump presidency fell from a strong seventy-seven percent to a measly sixty-two percent. Such a significant decline in support from conservatism's most reliable voters is extremely troubling for President Trump, as he is simply not in a position to lose any previously committed voters.
As to why more evangelicals have become dissatisfied with President Trump, the jury is still out. The killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and other unarmed African-Americans at the hands of police galvanized the nation and began a wave of widespread, even somewhat bipartisan protests against systemic racism. Although many evangelicals agreed that protests that turned violent should be condemned and stopped, Trump's calls to aggressive national self-defense and his laser-focus on the issue of protecting the Confederate flag did not sit well with some Christian voters. In addition to his alleged insensitivity to the cause of the protestors, many Americans believe that the president has grossly mishandled the Covid-19 pandemic. It makes some evangelicals uncomfortable to see the president airing personal grievances and discrediting respected medical experts while a deadly virus kills over one hundred and forty thousand Americans.
Conservative evangelicals voted for Donald Trump because they believed that he could deliver on their political priorities: constitutionalist judges, pro-life and pro-family policies, and expanded religious freedom protections. Has the president delivered? Just ask him, like Chris Wallace of Fox News did in a now-infamous exclusive aired on Sunday. At the close of a tough interview, Wallace asked Trump a relatively simple final question: "How will you regard your years as President of the United States?" President Trump responded with this:
I think I was very unfairly treated. From before I even won I was under investigation by a bunch of thieves, crooks. It was an illegal investigation...I have done more than any president in history in the first three and a half years, and I’ve done it suffering through investigations...where people have been so unfairly treated.
Evangelicals hoping that the president would avoid bitterly divisive rhetoric and stick to policy-making have reason to be sorely disappointed.
Because Donald Trump is beginning to fall out of favor with an ever-growing portion of evangelical voters, Joe Biden just unwrapped the proverbial golden ticket: a chance to woo newly undecided evangelicals. Biden's personal Catholic faith is typically overshadowed by Trump's gaudy appeals to evangelical convictions, but his strong and faithful belief in Christ has carried the former vice-president through the tragic death of his first wife in a car accident and more recently, the loss of his son to brain cancer. At the urging of top aides, Biden has purposefully emphasized his faith on the campaign trail, albeit more subtly than most candidates. Similarly to the Obama campaigns of 2008 and 2012, Biden has reached out to faith leaders across the ideological spectrum almost weekly, and he often chooses to strike a compassionate, justice-centered tone in stark contrast to the president.
A plurality of voters believe that Biden is more religious than President Trump, but many evangelical conservative object to the presumptive Democratic nominee's ideological positions on key issues such as health care, taxes, and most notably, abortion. In the minds of many Christians, the battle is between character and policy. Biden is widely recognized as a man of character by Christians, but Trump more closely fits the ideological makeup of many evangelical Republicans. As the president continually attempts to appease evangelicals, Christian voters must decide what is of primary importance: respected leadership or advancement of a conservative policy agenda.
Joe Biden will not win over any statistically significant portion of evangelical voters, not by any stretch. Red-state evangelicals will never flock to Joe Biden, but in the end, he does not need to be adored by Christians everywhere. All that Biden needs is the slight erosion of Trump's evangelical support, as already witnessed in polling. According to the Christian Broadcasting Network's chief political analyst David Brody, President Trump "needs to be at 81 percent or north [of evangelicals] to win reelection. Any slippage and he doesn’t get a second term." If Joe Biden can appeal to a small sliver of Trump-skeptic evangelicals and knock Trump down a percentage point or two among evangelicals, he can capture volatile swing states such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. That would bring the election to a swift and definite close in favor of Biden.
Donald Trump's countless appeals to conservative Christian voters may not be enough to lead him to another victory in November. If enough evangelical voters are willing to look past ideological differences and vote for a politician they believe has a moral conscience, Joe Biden will easily reclaim the Oval Office for Democrats.
Daniel Hostetter is the Acquisitions Editor for The National Times