Last week, my RNS colleague Tobin Grant used some newly released survey data to provide the best portrait we yet have of the white evangelicals who are Donald Trump’s biggest supporters; to wit, those with racist views who don’t go to church much. Now comes the Public Research Religion Institute with a new report suggesting why so many white evangelicals have been drawn to Trump.
It’s immigration, stupid.
On Trump’s signature issue, evangelicals stand out as the only religious grouping in America of which a majority (53 percent) believe that immigrants “threaten traditional American customs and values.” Just 32 percent of them believe that “newcomers from other countries benefit the U.S.” Those numbers are the reverse what all Americans believe (30 percent and 50 percent respectively).
It’s useful, as well, that PRRI differentiates white evangelicals by age in this regard. Younger evangelicals look like all Americans, splitting on immigrants 55 percent (benefit) to 33 percent (threat); older ones, not so much: 57 percent (threat) to 23 percent (benefit). This sheds significant light on why Trump does better among older than younger Republicans generally.
When the Republican Party came into being before the Civil War, it absorbed the Know-Nothings, the nativist Protestants whose stock in trade was hostility to Catholic immigrants. That’s the ancient piece of GOP DNA that Trump has used to incarnate his Jurassic Park candidacy.