October 9, 2023

Who Are the GOP Christians Again?

More Republican voters see Donald Trump as a person of faith than view any other GOP presidential candidate as such.

Just how astute are voters? The answer to that question often confounds political pundits. In one sense, the answer depends on the source from which voters get their information. But that doesn’t explain the whole picture. The manner of polling conducted often impacts how voters answer questions, which is why the best polls are the votes cast in an election.

However, polling can at least offer a broad expression of what the majority of voters are thinking.

Recently, a HarrisX poll asked Republican voters about their views of the current presidential candidates’ religious faith. The survey found that 69% said they are a “person of faith” (POF). Based on this rather vague terminology, 53% believed that Donald Trump is also a POF.

However, the shocking part was that 52% said Mike Pence is a POF, one point less than his former boss. This is surprising given the well-established fact that Pence is an evangelical Christian who has long and very publicly spoken of his faith. Trump, on the other hand … not so much.

There is one important factor to note. Of the survey respondents who identified as evangelical Christians, 65% identified Pence as a POF, whereas just 37% identified Trump as such.

While Trump has certainly courted Christians, he rarely expresses much interest in spiritual matters or organized religion. In 2015, Trump said he was “Presbyterian and Protestant,” but in 2020 he said he identified as a non-denominational Christian. In 2019, he appointed televangelist Paula White as his personal pastor. But there is no evidence that Trump attends church regularly or that he has been an active member of any church — or that he understands basic Christian doctrine like forgiveness for sin or behaves much like a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Pence has long been active in evangelical Christianity and while governor of Indiana signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a bill that was aimed at protecting people’s right to religious objection. Though he was born into a Roman Catholic home, Pence didn’t really become a Christian until college. He credits his coming to faith with a corresponding profound change in his political views, as he went from being a Democrat who had volunteered for and voted for Jimmy Carter to embracing the “common-sense conservatism of Ronald Reagan.”

Pence made headlines while vice president when it came to light that he practiced the Reverend Billy Graham’s rule of never being alone with a woman other than his wife. This was due to his Christian conviction.

Going down the poll even further, 47% of voters tagged Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as a POF. DeSantis has been less outspoken but has referenced his Catholic faith and stated, “Our household is a Christ-centered household.” Furthermore, he has said that it’s his and his wife’s job to provide religious training to their children.

While the view of Trump being more of a POF than Pence is a head-scratcher, even more so may be that just 31% of voters pegged South Carolina Senator Tim Scott as a POF. Like Pence, Scott has been very vocal about his Christian faith. In an interview back in May with CBN, Scott recounted his conversion: “It was September 22, 1983, at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting. I was on a small football scholarship at Presbyterian College, and I gave my life to the Lord. And I will say — you talk about radical transformation.”

Similarly, just 31% of voters believe Nikki Haley to be a POF. Haley grew up in the Sikh faith of her parents but says she was exposed to many different Christian denominations throughout her childhood. She had a “huge turning point” in her faith in 2015 after a white supremacist killed nine black Christians in a Charleston church. She says working through the emotions of that tragedy led her to become a Christian.

And then there’s Vivek Ramaswamy, who is Hindu, and who was seen by 30% of voters as a POF. If by “faith” they mean “Christian,” they need to get out more.

When it comes to the actual lived position of the candidates and whether they are genuinely committed to a religious faith, Trump should be at the bottom of the list. So why is he considered by most voters — and more than any other candidate — to be a POF?

One answer may lie in the designation itself. A “person of faith” is a very ambiguous and broad term. For many, just stating a belief in a higher power may be enough to classify someone as a person of faith. Furthermore, Trump has regularly been spoken of by supporters in religious-like language. He’s the “chosen one” who will “save America,” and so forth.

The bottom line may be that with the political stakes becoming ever more significant for our daily lives, voters are tempted to put more and more, well, faith in politicians. And those politicians’ promises of “salvation” grow ever more broad, muddying the waters of what anyone means by the word “faith.”

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