After writing yesterday about a new JMC analytics poll that showed almost 40% of evangelicals were more likely to vote for Roy Moore after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced, I came across another poll from last year that might give a little insight into how we got here.
In October of 2016, just before Trump surged to the presidency, a PRRI/Brookings poll found that in a span of just 5 years, evangelicals greatly loosened their standards when it came to an “elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life.” According to the poll, in 2011 just 30 percent of white evangelicals were willing to compromise their standards for a politician they liked. But fast-forward to 2016 and the percentage jumped to a whopping 72 percent — a shift that dwarfed other religious groups surveyed.
In addition, the percentage of white evangelicals who felt “strong religious beliefs” are “important” when it comes to a candidate went from 64 percent in 2011 down to 49 percent in 2016.
White mainline Protestants and Catholics also grew more accepting of a candidate who has committed “immoral acts,” while religiously unaffiliated people barely changed. Those “unaffiliated” people in 2011 had been much more willing than the broader population to believe candidates who had committed “immoral acts” could do their jobs. Now, they are in line with Americans as a whole. (The published results did not include data on other groups.)
There is no way to know what caused these shifts. That said, it’s difficult to see this outside of the context of the 2016 election, and in particular what role Donald Trump — fending off allegations of sexual misconduct — plays in it.
The numbers beg the question: what do evangelical, or “born again,” Christians stand for other than opposition to abortion and gay marriage? Coming from a devoutly religious family, I started to shed my religious beliefs in my early teens. But due to my upbringing and the people who raised me, I held on to the notion that Christians were for the most part virtuous people. It’s a notion that I still believe to be true, but the extremism and moral questionability sweeping through the ranks of America’s evangelicals, especially their most vocal leaders, is impossible to ignore.
Evangelical rank and file just have chosen Trump over many of their vocal leaders who warned them not to. #ElectionNight
— Ed Stetzer (@edstetzer) November 9, 2016
Over 80 precent of evangelicals throwing their unwavering and cult-like support behind a man who openly degrades women, admits to grabbing their genitalia without their consent, lies sociopathically, etc., doesn’t just represent a polling statistic; it represents an actual psychological phenomenon.
Just before the election last year, a The New York Times broke a story that highlighted accusations of two women who said Trump “touched them inappropriately.” That same day, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. appeared on CNN and rationalized his continued support for Trump.
“…the bible teaches that we’re all sinners, we all need forgiveness, and to me it’s that simple,” Falwell said.
"We're not electing a pastor. We're electing a president," Jerry Falwell Jr. said. Trump "is a changed man." https://t.co/UynRFn3li9
— OutFrontCNN (@OutFrontCNN) October 12, 2016
CNN’s Erin Burnett stopped him, saying, “If these things happened, [Trump] would be a serial sexual predator.”
Falwell’s waffling was pathetic. Finally, he said that the Donald Trump of “5 to 10 years ago may have been a different person” but the bigger point was that “he’s going to appoint the right justices to the Supreme Court, he’s going to control immigration, he’s going to bring our country back to a position of strength again, and that’s why I’m supporting Donald Trump.”
Today, Falwell’s support for Moore is just as strong, and he’s not alone. If this is the kind of standard the GOP’s strongest voting bloc is applying to politicians, then there’s no telling what kind of monstrosities they’ll elevate to elected office in the future.
Featured image: Carlo Allegri/Reuters