At the beginning of the year, the Washington Post asked Jerry Falwell, Jr. whether there was anything Donald Trump could do that would endanger his support among evangelical leaders. “No,” Falwell replied. “I know anything he does, it may not be ideologically ‘conservative,’ but it’s going to be what’s best for this country, and I can’t imagine him doing anything that’s not good for the country.”
Well, Falwell and his fellow leaders may be standing firm, but when it comes to the evangelical rank in file, maybe not so much.
At the beginning of December The Marist poll found 73 percent of white evangelicals approving of the job Trump was doing as president, compared to 17 percent who disapproved. Six weeks later, Marist’s numbers are 66 percent and 23 percent respectively.
No doubt, that’s still a whole lot of evangelical support for the president. By comparison, the entire national sample went from 49 percent disapproval v. 42 percent approval to 53-39. But it’s notable that the approval margin among white evangelicals shrunk 13 points, compared to just a seven-point shift overall.
Even more notably, just 58 percent of white evangelicals said they would definitely vote for Trump in 2020. Given that 80 percent of them voted for him in 2016, that ought to give the president’s reelection campaign the willies.
So what’s happened?
Since the prior poll, there has been a stream of disturbing news about the president, from the resignation of Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to ongoing revelations about Trump business dealings in Russia. But it’s the partial government shut-down that seems to have moved the numbers.
To be sure, two-thirds of white evangelicals support Trump’s proposal for a Southern border wall, according to PRRI. And it’s logical to think that those are the folks who continue to approve of his job performance.
But he’s lost the others, at least for now. They not only can imagine him doing something that’s not good for the country, they believe he’s done it.