Donald Trump has surprised many pundits with his rise to the top of the GOP field. Just as a surprising is that he is leading among born-again Republicans.
This month’s Washington Post-ABC poll asked Republican (and Republican-leaning independents) who they preferred in the party’s presidential primary. The poll also included some questions on religion that provide a snapshot of how Republican evangelicals view the field of candidates.
The poll isn’t ideal. Like many polls, it doesn’t use a person’s denomination or church to identify evangelicals. It uses race (whites only) and whether the person identifies as a “born-again or evangelical Christian” (read more on why this matters here).
The field is also crowded—so much so that I don’t bother to report half-a-dozen candidates. And it’s early. But with those caveats, the poll is one of the few glimpses into how religion is shaping Republicans’ views of the candidates.
Like other white Republicans, born-again Republicans have Trump as their top-pick. They also have similarly sized support for Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio.
Born-again voters differ from other Republicans in their preferences for other candidates. Most notably is Mike Huckabee, who is polling well because he is doing twice as well among born-again voters than other Christians.
Other candidates are also polling better among evangelicals, but still remain low in the polls. Ted Cruz receives almost all of their support from evangelicals. For fellow Texan Rick Perry, the poll reported zero support among Republicans who aren’t born-again Christians.
Born-again Republicans are less likely than other Republicans to support Chris Christie and Ben Carson. While Christie has never been the darling of evangelicals, the difference in support for Carson is interesting. Carson is a devout religious person with strong social conservative views. But he is a Seventh-Day Adventist. Some evangelicals consider Seventh Day Adventists to be Christians (albeit with some differences in beliefs and practices). Other evangelicals consider Adventists to be outside the proverbial fold, much like Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Earlier this year, a group of Southern Baptists cancelled an appearance by Carson at their annual convention after vocal opposition from some of their pastors.
Differences between the born-again base and other Republicans may become more stark as the actual voting grows closer. Primary voters want someone they like and someone who can win. As some candidates become irrelevant or drop out, their supporters will move to other candidates. Huckabee’s place in the primary may grow if/when Perry, Cruz, and others aren’t there. Or support may go to Walker. And given the size of Trump’s bank account and ego, all bets are off on how long he affects the race.