(RNS) White evangelical Christians, a crucial bloc of Republican voters, are backing likely GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump by a wide margin over Hillary Clinton, but their support is significantly lower than for previous Republican candidates.
That relatively tepid faith-based endorsement could wind up undermining Trump’s chances for victory in November.
A new poll from CBS News showed Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, with a 6-point lead over Trump, 43 percent to 37 percent, basically unchanged from a month earlier.
The survey, released Wednesday (June 15), also showed white evangelicals supporting Trump 62 percent to just 17 percent for Clinton.
That sounds like an impressive lead until you consider that recent GOP presidential candidates have won close to 8 in 10 white evangelical voters, and that Trump’s sky-high negative ratings and vulnerabilities as a volatile, first-time candidate mean he will likely need strong turnout from that base to win.
In the previous three presidential elections, for example, George W. Bush won 79 percent of the white evangelical vote (2004), John McCain won 73 percent (2008), and in 2012 Mitt Romney – the first Mormon to head a major party ticket – also won 79 percent, like Bush.
The CBS poll, most of which was conducted before the Orlando nightclub massacre by a professed Muslim extremist, has a margin of error of 3 percentage points. But even shading on the up side, the numbers are not encouraging for Trump.
It’s not clear whether vocal opposition to Trump’s campaign by many prominent Christian conservatives has hurt the candidate, or whether repeated statements by the brash New York real estate magnate, and his personal history and current struggles to speak articulately about his faith, have raised suspicions among evangelicals.
But Trump is continuing to try to woo conservative Christians.
He spoke at a major conference of social conservatives Friday in Washington and next week is to meet with some 900 conservative Christians, mostly evangelicals, who have been invited to attend “a conversation” with him to try to gain their trust.