Trump’s Base Is White Evangelical Voters

As the Senate Judiciary Committee begins its hearings on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, there is one group that is 100 percent behind him. Here’s Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas:

As Kavanaugh tries to avoid stating his positions on these issues over the next couple of days, keep in mind that when it comes to Roe v. Wade or LGBT rights, white evangelicals like Jeffress say that Trump’s judicial nominees have been beyond their wildest imaginations.

But Jeffress states something else that happens to be true. White evangelicals supported Trump at higher rates than in any previous election. There is some tension between a statement like that and the mythology that has developed about Trump voters/supporters being primarily white working class Americans. Over a year ago, Nicholas Carnes and Noam Lupu documented why that assumption isn’t true.

Among people who said they voted for Trump in the general election, 35 percent had household incomes under $50,000 per year (the figure was also 35 percent among non-Hispanic whites), almost exactly the percentage in NBC’s March 2016 survey. Trump’s voters weren’t overwhelmingly poor. In the general election, like the primary, about two thirds of Trump supporters came from the better-off half of the economy.

They go on to point out that, while almost 70 percent of Trump voters didn’t have a college degree, that is also true of all Republicans and pretty close to the national average.

Amy Walter fills us in on what actually distinguishes Trump voters and supporters.

Using a data set from Public Religion Research Institute, Podhorzer [AFL-CIO’s political director] broke out white voters by gender, education and whether they identified as evangelical. The gap between white voters who approve and disapprove of Trump by gender was 25 points. By education (college versus non-college) it was about the same at 26 percent. But the gap in perceptions of the president between white voters who are evangelical and those who aren’t was a whopping 60 percent!

This evangelical support gap transcends education and gender. For example, among white evangelicals, college-educated men and non-college educated men give Trump equally impressive job approval ratings (78 percent and 80 percent respectively). But, among white men who aren’t evangelical, the education gap is significant. Those without a college degree give Trump a 52 percent job approval rating, while just 40 percent of those with a college degree approve of the job he’s doing.

Meanwhile, among women, if you remove evangelicals, white women with and without a college degree have the same (very low) opinion of the president.

White evangelical women without a college degree give Trump a 68 percent job approval rating, while those with a degree give him a much lower, though still positive 51 percent approval rating. Meanwhile, Trump’s approval among white, non-evangelical women without a college degree is 35 percent, just five points higher than the 30 percent approval rating he gets from white, non-evangelical college-educated women.

To summarize, Trump’s base is evangelical white voters, regardless of education level. Once we understand that, a lot of things become more clear, like why the president told court evangelicals at a recent meeting that his executive order on the so-called “Johnson amendment” freed them up to support Republican candidates from the pulpit in the upcoming midterm elections. That is the base he needs to energize, even though he’s not on the ticket this time around. It also explains why Trump’s support among his base continues, regardless of the fact that he has broken every populist promise he made during the election.

From his nominations of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to moving the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, Trump continues to do everything he can to court his base of white evangelical supporters. The fact that Vladimir Putin has successfully courted this same group means that they won’t likely be swayed by proof that Trump conspired with him to win the election. After all, as #MAGA twitter noted, “keeping Clinton out of office was so urgent and important that it warranted some foreign intervention.”

It is truly a sad commentary on white evangelicals that they are willing to make this kind of deal with the devil in exchange for their support. But that is where we stand in this country right now. Whether a base of support among that group is big enough to continue to win elections and whether they continue to turn out to vote the way they did in 2016 are the only questions left on the table.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.