Heading into the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, one unanswered question was how – and if – Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton would seek to galvanize the support of evangelical voters. Both candidates’ picks for vice president, made immediately before their parties’ conventions, could be seen as a way to reach out to Christian voters who have felt under-represented this campaign season.
Trump named Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana, as his running mate. Taking the stage in Cleveland, Pence declared, “I’m a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.” He peppered his acceptance speech with phrases familiar to Christians: “I have faith that God can still heal our land” and “Pray daily for a wise and discerning heart.”
The governor, who grew up Catholic, gave his life to Jesus Christ as a college student in 1978, he told CBN News in 2010. He and his wife, Karen, attend College Park Church in Indianapolis, and Pence describes himself as an “evangelical Catholic.”
Pence came under fire last year when he signed the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. Critics claimed the bill discriminated against the LGBT community, while supporters claimed it
protected the rights of religious believers to practice their faith. Corporations, major sporting events, and individuals threatened to boycott the state. A few days later, Pence signed an amendment to the bill which also protected sexual orientation and gender identity rights, causing some conservatives to question his commitment to religious freedom.
At the Republican National Convention, in what some saw as an appeal to evangelicals, Trump pledged he and Pence would do away with the Johnson Amendment, which became part of the U.S. tax code in 1954. Then-Senator Lyndon Johnson proposed the measure, which restricts tax-exempt religious organizations, including churches, from endorsing or opposing political candidates under penalty of losing their tax-exempt status.
The Democratic nominee for President, Hillary Clinton, also introduced her running mate prior to her party’s national convention. Virginia Senator Tim Kaine has attended St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Richmond for nearly 30 years, and also has done mission work in Honduras. The former Virginia governor sings in the choir at his predominately African-American church.
Kaine has used biblical terminology to express his displeasure at the Senate’s recent failure to pass stricter gun laws. He told 60 Minutes, “The chamber was ringed with the family members from Sandy Hook, with Virginia Tech family members sitting with them and helping them. There’s a phrase in the letter to the Hebrews that talks about being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. We were surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, but we couldn’t do the right thing.”
Kaine’s stance on abortion could be troubling to Christian voters. He told CNN in July that his view on abortion is traditionally Catholic, meaning pro-life, “but I am very strongly supportive that women should make these decisions and government shouldn’t intrude. I’m a strong supporter of Roe v. Wade and women being able to make these decisions. In government, we have enough things to worry about. We don’t need to make people’s reproductive decisions for them.”
With just four months until the general election, a new Pew poll shows Trump has a commanding lead among white evangelicals, 78% of whom say they will vote for him, compared to 17% who support Clinton.
Black Protestant voters overwhelmingly say they support Clinton – 89%, compared to 8% for Trump. Hispanic Catholics also support Clinton (77%) over Trump (16%).
Pew found voters in general are not pleased with their choices for president: 42% said it would be difficult to choose between the candidates because neither one would make a good president.
Voter motivation is also a key issue in the 2016 election, Pew found. Of the 78% of white evangelicals who support Trump, 45% said their decision was “mainly a vote against Clinton,” compared to 30% who said it was “mainly a vote for Trump.”
The survey comes after Trump’s meeting in June with nearly 1,000 evangelicals, including many Southern Baptists. At least eight Southern Baptists now serve on his evangelical advisory panel.