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Did white evangelical support for Trump drop due to lower turnout?

Update: I changed the title of the post to a question because of the uncertainty raised as we receive new data. The post is also updated. The results may continue to change as additional information on turnout becomes available, as is often the case in presidential elections.

One of the headlines out of last week’s election was that white evangelicals backed Donald Trump big league. While it’s true that most white evangelicals who voted supported Trump, many also stayed home. As the data comes in, the key will be to watch turnout.

Exit polls show that 81 percent voted for Trump. This is stronger than the support for either of the two previous Republican candidates.

But exit polls don’t tell the whole story. Because exit polls can only describe those who actually voted, they don’t include citizens who decided to stay home. This year, national turnout was low. Initial reports had turnout around 55 percent; updated turnout is around 58 percent of eligible citizens voting. However, if the past is predictive, this estimate over-estimates the number of votes for president.

In terms of total votes, Donald Trump received slightly less than John McCain but more than Mitt Romney. A few percentage points in turnout can make a big difference. If turnout is just a few points lower, then Trump could receive fewer votes than Romney, too. If it’s higher, then it could be a record in the other direction.

All of this depends on the assumption that the white evangelical vote has remained steady over recent years (this depends on who and how it’s measured) and that evangelical turnout follows national turnout (which it does, as seen in the percentage in the exit polls).

It’s likely that many of those who stayed home could not pull the lever for Trump or Hillary Clinton. In previous elections, most voters who didn’t vote for the Republican voted for the Democrat. This year, Clinton received a record low percentage of the white evangelical vote. This combined with lower turnout would make the Clinton vote the lowest in recent history.

Surveys that are currently in the field will give a better picture of how many Americans decided “not voting” was their best option in 2016.

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About the author

Tobin Grant

@TobinGrant blogs for Religion News Service at Corner of Church and State, a data-driven conversation on religion and politics. He is a political science professor at Southern Illinois University and associate editor of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

6 Comments

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  • Trump won with strong evangelical support – the data shows that, as well as showing that voter turnout was good as well. Exit polls shows 26% of the voters were evangelical in 2012, and that exactly the same percent (26%) were evangelical in 2016. Overall turnout was 58% in 2012, and looks to be within a couple percent of that in 2016 (current estimate is 58%). The data show that evangelicals did not stay home. They came out and voted for Trump. Even if these current numbers are “off”, they’ll only be off by a couple percent, and the overall conclusion is still the same – that evangelicals came out and voted for Trump, and in a higher proportion than ever before. In an election when there is so much fake news, can we all agree not to write articles that try to mislead people contrary to the data?

  • What lower turnout is the writer talking about? Voters of all races, classes, religious and party affiliations voted in record numbers last week. The notable exception was African Americans. whose numbers were down from their 2008 high mark, and down further from 2012.

  • Lowest voter turnout figures since 2000. African Americans and the urban poor in general were subject to some of the most onerous voting restrictions and burdens since 1965 in at least 7 “red states”.

  • Oh, those poor African Americans and urban poor! When they fail to roll out of bed and go vote Democrat out of respect for their overlords, the Democrats always have this ready-made excuse of voting restrictions and burdens! They were burdened by an unexciting, insider candidate in Hilliary Clinton, that did not inspire them to bother to vote!

  • OK denial it is. Never mind the systematic poll closings in areas where urban poor/blacks vote. Never mind the blatant gerrymandering to dilute their vote. Never mind the completely unwarranted unjustified Voter ID laws. Never mind the ILLEGAL purging of the registered voter rolls done by local Republicans. As long as you can get the vote, who needs rule of law or a real democratic system.

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