Evangelical Christian Voters Support Trump Despite Weak Abortion Stance


  • Evangelical Christian voters often cite abortion as a key reaosn for supporting Trump.
  • But Trump is more moderate on the issue than some of his primary opponents.
  • Experts say evangelical Christians appear to be motivated by their declining influence in the US.

When Donald Trump ran for president in 2016, many wondered how evangelical Christians could vote for him, a twice-divorced real estate magnate better known for a reality TV show, playboy image, and rumored affairs than for his faith. There was a common refrain: It’s all about abortion.

For a certain segment of evangelical Christians and Republicans, that’s certainly true. But increasingly, for those who identify as evangelical Christians, abortion is not at the top of the priority list, experts said.

“Abortion is the dinner-party answer to the question, ‘Why do you support Trump?'” Ryan Burge, a political scientist at Eastern Illinois University and a Baptist pastor, told Business Insider. “You don’t want to say, ‘I like Trump because he wants to kick all the illegals out.'”

Even though, according to Burge, “immigration is as important as abortion for evangelical voters.”

When it comes to abortion, Trump did deliver on one of his biggest campaign promises: overturning Roe v. Wade. The three judges he appointed to the Supreme Court voted to end the decades-old right to abortion in the US.

But as it’s become increasingly obvious that most Americans did not want that decision, many Republicans have softened their anti-abortion messaging, including Trump.

Although the former president continues to brag about overturning Roe, he has blamed GOP messaging on abortion for the party’s underwhelming performance in the 2022 midterms. He’s said other Republicans need to tone down their abortion stance and seek consensus, and he’s rejected any sort of federal ban or limit, calling it a states’ right issue.

It put Trump squarely to the left of some of his previous primary opponents on abortion.

For instance, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who signed a bill banning abortions after six weeks in his state, said he would support a federal ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Trump has even blasted DeSantis for his position on abortion, suggesting his more extreme stance was why he was lagging so far behind in the polls.

Yet Trump’s more moderate position on the issue does not seem to make a dent in his support among evangelicals. In Iowa last week, Trump got more support from voters in heavily evangelical counties than he did in the 2016 primary, according to The Washington Post. Polls from Iowa suggested that 53% of voters who self-identified as white born-again or evangelical Christians in 2024 voted for Trump, up from just over 20% in 2016.

Despite DeSantis’ attempts to woo evangelicals in the state — including touting an endorsement from influential evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats — he underperformed in the caucuses on January 15. Within days, he announced he was ending his campaign and backing Trump.

Burge and other political scientists have noted that partisanship, rather than religion, has long been a greater indicator of how a person will vote in elections. In other words, people do not vote based on their faith as much as their identification with a certain political party.

That reality has become more evident in recent years. Michael Wear, who served as a faith advisor to President Barack Obama, told Religion News Service that in the past, Republicans went to great lengths to seek the approval of evangelicals. Lately, he said, it seems to be the other way around. He noted that in 2023, a summit hosted by a prominent evangelical group in the state did not have a pastor or faith leader interview primary candidates, but rather former Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

“It shows evangelicals playing for conservative acceptance, as opposed to Republicans playing for evangelical acceptance,” Wear told RNS.

Burge also thinks some evangelical voters are more motivated by fear of their declining influence, especially as the country broadly becomes less religious and more diverse. He notes the effectiveness of the “Make America Great Again” slogan, alluding to a time when “white Christians ran every aspect of American society.” Trump himself frequently talks about Christians as a persecuted group and has embraced messaging about himself as a savior sent by God.

Christianity is “rapidly losing its place in society every day,” Burge said, adding that many white Christians “prefer the way it was.”

Samuel Perry, a University of Oklahoma sociologist and expert in Christianity and politics, told NPR that despite recent wins like overturning Roe, many white evangelicals still feel like underdogs in the culture war.

“And they believe that Trump is the guy who has in the past and continues to promise to fight for them,” he said.

When people feel like their power and influence is rapidly declining, Bruge said, that’s when they fight the hardest to hold onto it.

“I think that’s why you’re seeing such public shows of Christian nationalism,” Burge said, adding they “feel like this is sort of the last gasp they have at being a majority in America and running the show.”



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