Alex Penk –
No one likes a hypocrite. So, when we hear that evangelical Christians in America are voting for Donald Trump in great numbers, it is easy to get pretty scornful, pretty fast.
Trump’s behaviour on the campaign trail has been appalling; he has even encouraged people at his rallies to use violence on protestors.
His policy is vacuous, many of his public comments are best characterised as insults, and while he claims to be a ‘strong Christian,’ he is a long way from demonstrating the kind of values that you would expect an evangelical to share.
So why are evangelicals voting for him? Actually, it turns out that they are not, or at least not the way you have been told.
The Evangelical Vote
First, it is true that many people who categorise themselves ‘evangelicals’ are voting for Trump. But when you look at the data, you see that many more of them are voting for a different candidate.
Take South Carolina as an example, where 33% of evangelicals voted for Trump, meaning 67% of them voted for someone who is not Trump. And when you ask those voters to say what matters most to them, Trump’s support drops to just 11% among voters who say a candidate’s values matter most.
An even bigger problem is that the data relies on self-identification.
Someone is counted as an evangelical if they say they are, but that does not distinguish between nominal and practising evangelicals.
In fact, when evangelicals are limited to those who actually hold evangelical beliefs, or say they attend church frequently, they are less likely to vote for Trump.
Values not shared
It is true, though, that some evangelicals, actual or nominal, are voting for Trump. One explanation is that they care more about other issues than having shared values with their candidate.
Trump has recognised a huge, and legitimate, discontent among sections of the American public who have been left behind over the last ‘forty years of hurt’ and he is exploiting it with his promise to ‘Make. America. Great. Again!’
Another, related, explanation is that Trump’s supporters are angry, that they are ready to ‘smash things,’ feeling that they have been betrayed by the Republican establishment who have taken their support for granted and ignored them.
Trump is their wrecking ball, their way to send a message to Party elites.
This shows that the relationship between values and votes is complex and imperfect. A candidate’s values matter more to some voters than others, and probably not much at all to voters who are ready to ‘smash things.’
The available choices also matter; if you do not like the other candidates, you might still vote for the guy with problematic values.
So we should not be too quick to assume hypocrisy, and we should care about a candidate’s values, because we have to rely on the character and judgment of the people who will make big decisions for the country.
While politics is often called ‘the art of compromise,’ it is good to know that many people will still vote in accordance with their values.
In fact, it is not as unusual as you have been told.
Alex Penk is Chief Executive, Maxim Institute based in Auckland.