Trump runs the table in Nevada

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State Seal of Nevada

Public Domain

State Seal of Nevada

State Seal of Nevada

State Seal of Nevada

If another candidate is going to beat out Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, he’d better move fast. Yesterday’s Nevada caucuses showed that Trump can break the alleged 30 percent barrier and win just about every demographic group in the GOP — whites and Hispanics, rich and poor, well-educated and ill-, moderate and conservative, non-evangelical and, yes, evangelical.

Speaking of the latter, there’s been a certain amount of head-scratching about them this election season. How can a group of voters supposedly concerned about social issues and desirous of a candidate who shares their values be voting for a thrice-married, non-churchgoing etc. etc. guy like Donald Trump?

It’s a fair enough question, and one that I’ve tried to answer myself, surmising (in the absence of empirical data) that evangelicals in Iowa, who preferred Ted Cruz to Trump, identify in more religious terms than those in other parts of the country, and that frequency of worship attendance may help differentiate Trump-supporting from non-Trump-supporting evangelicals.

But be all that as it may, it doesn’t mean that evangelicals somehow don’t constitute an important and interesting subset of the American voting population. What needs to be kept in mind is that, in political polling, evangelicals are simply the people who, when you ask if they are an evangelical or born-again Christian, answer in the affirmative.

What we know about such people, especially the white ones, is that they are overwhelmingly Republican voters. In 2012, white evangelicals constituted 40 percent of Romney voters but just eight percent of Obama voters.

Naturally, as my friend Art Farnsley pointed out in an RNS column yesterday, there is considerable variation among white evangelicals — just as there is among other religiously defined groups. Jewish voters, who overwhelming prefer Democrats to Republicans, range from Satmar Hasids to secular lefties. Catholic voters mirror the American voting population as a whole — until you divide them into Hispanic (Democrat-leaning) and non-Hispanic (Republican-leaning).

As with a gender gap or an age gap or a worship-attendance (God) gap, what’s of interest is how a given portion of the voting public skews with respect to a given candidate or party. Thus, in Nevada, Trump won evangelicals handily but slightly underperformed with them as compared to non-evangelicals, taking 41 percent of the former versus 50 percent of the latter.

The problem for third-place Cruz was not merely that he lost the evangelicals to Trump but that he barely got a bigger share of them than second-place Marco Rubio, despite having by far the best evangelical credentials in the field. If, instead of winning 26 percent of evangelicals to Rubio’s 25 percent, he had won them by the 34-percent-to-23-percent margin that he won those who described themselves as “very conservative,” he would have tied Rubio for second place and the story line this morning would be significantly different.

In South Carolina, evangelicals voted 33 percent for Trump, 27 percent for Cruz, and 22 percent for Rubio. As we head towards the Southern Super Tuesday primaries, Cruz needs to do better than that.

  • Glenn Harrell

    Most every family has that rich, brash, cocky Uncle. When he comes to visit, he brings GIFTS for all. He seems bigger than life as he recites his tales and self-uplifting stories.

    He makes all the other uncles seem quite boring and they know it.

    In between the family reunions, no one seems to know where he is or goes.
    They don’t much care either as long as he remains the sugar daddy at least once a year.

    The question is not “what is the theology of an Evangelical that guides his way of living”. For the most part, they don’t even know or care. Someone told them what to believe, not how or why. The questions politicians must ask of the modern Evangelicals are, “What is the condition of your stock portfolio, and how may I help you?”

  • David Lloyd-Jones

    Rubio represents rich, successful businessmen. There are a few of those in the Republican Party. Cruz represents people with tortured consciences, and people whose families’ mental distresses are soothed by intentional community. There are a few of them everywhere.

    Trump represents the happy go lucky and the irritated, the people who like cheerleaders and skillful football plays, noise, and laughter, and fun.

    Well, um, what was the question?

    -dlj.

  • cken

    Interestingly we persist on measuring how good a Christian somebody is by their church attendance. I know many very good people who try to live a Christ like life and don’t go to church. I have known Hindus and Wiccas who live a more Christ like life than most Christians. Organized Christian religions need a good self analysis. They have devolved into a social club providing little more than a networking opportunity. The vast majority of churches do little or nothing to facilitate spiritual growth.
    So who is to say how Christian Trump is. If our yardsticks for Christian is anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage and church attendance then we need to reevaluate what it means to be a Christian.
    Maybe we need a shake up, a revolution in Christianity like Trump is giving the GOP and Sanders is giving the DEMs. Maybe Christians and the country in general are getting tired of oratory pablum and hypocrites.

  • Glenn Harrell

    Absolutely cken,

    Many professing Christians have been sending their version of a “no more establishment” message for some time now in the form of absenteeism;

    Just as Civic Clubs (volunteerism) have seen their numbers drop. So I don’t think it is just about church and religion. It is more a socioeconomically driven way of life that is much less conducive to church and club alike.

    The 30 and under crowd is not just real keen on joining anything that ties them down for much more than 2 years.

    Trumpmight say,

    “Look folks, I am not going to pretend to be Christian just to appease a church anymore than I will say I am Conservative just to appease a politician. I am not a religious person but I will assure you, if I am President, that the Constitution will remain in force to protect your right to be one if you so choose. Such sustained liberty is a part of my “Make America Great Again ” campaign.

    He would actually gain even more support with such refreshing honesty.