Bill Leonard, James and Marilyn Dunn Chair of Baptist Studies at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity and an expert on contemporary American religious life, can comment on the role evangelical voters will play in the election and what religious issues are likely to matter most at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. Widely known for his work in American, Southern and Baptist religious studies, Leonard is the author or editor of 24 books.
“Overall, the evangelical vote is still important to the Republican base, but politicians are confronted with a society in which one in five adults, and one in three millennials is a ‘none’ without religious affiliation or connection,” Leonard says. “That reality will impact this election cycle dramatically where religion and voting blocs are concerned. Almost all ‘nones’ vote Democratic.”
Trump and evangelical voters
- “A recent poll shows three quarters of evangelicals would vote for Trump. There is nowhere else for them to go. Conservative Christians are themselves divided over Trump. Leaders like Jerry Falwell, Jr., and First Baptist Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress support him, but other Southern Baptist leaders like Russell Moore are keeping their distance.”
- “The platform issues related to social and ethical issues will shape the Republican National Convention, particularly for conservative Christians, some of whom fear Trump will not be as supportive in his response to Planned Parenthood, same-sex marriage and abortion/birth control issues.”
- “Trump’s somewhat strong affirmation for LGBTQ-oriented individuals after the shootings in Orlando have given some concern to conservative Christians.”
Clinton and evangelical voters
- “African American Protestants clearly fit the definition of evangelical, but tend to vote Democratic.”
- “Clinton affirms her long time Christian/Methodist faith but does not speak about it extensively. Mainline Protestants are generally strong Democratic supporters. Recent polls suggest strong support for Clinton with Roman Catholics, perhaps the influence of Latino-related issues with Trump.”
- “Whether Democrat-leaning Christians have serious concerns about ethical issues with Clinton remains to be seen.”
- “At the Democratic National Convention, some issues related to climate, LGBT issues, race and trade are faith-related concerns for progressive Christians. This is particularly true of the engagement of black clergy in matters related to gun laws, policing, and voting rights laws. Progressive Christians generally support same sex marriage even if their churches are not fully responsive to it.”
Leonard suggests it may be time to shift away from the term “evangelical” to describe a voting segment that might more accurately be called Conservative Christians who vote Republican. “The term has become so politicized that its theological basis is unclear.”
He has provided commentary for major news outlets including the Associated Press, NBC News, the Religion News Service and Salon.com.
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