Can President Trump turn out evangelical voters in Virginia?
RICHMOND, Va.- The Midterm Elections will not only decide congressional and senatorial races across the Commonwealth, but will be seen as a test for President Donald Trump’s ability to bring conservative Christian voters back to the polls.
In 2016, 81 percent of white evangelical Christians voted for Trump, according to the Pew Research Center, making their position in the upcoming election politically crucial.
These Christians make up a slightly larger portion of the population in Virginia compared to other states nationwide. In Virginia, 30 percent of adults identify themselves as evangelical protestants, who believe in the active advocacy, preaching, and spreading of their religion.
Political experts are confident that evangelical voters will continue to vote as they have in the last elections.
Kyle Kondik, director of communications for the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, believes that white evangelical groups remain one of the Trump administration’s strongest support groups.
“I think you’d expect them to be a strong demographic for Republicans again in this election, really no matter what happens,” said Kondik.
Trump has delivered to this group with two conservative Supreme Court justices confirmed.
According to Kondik there are exceptions in some races, such as in West Virginia, which also has a considerable evangelical Christian population. Despite this seemingly reliable Republican demographic, recent polls showed incumbent Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin coming in nearly 10 percentage points ahead of his Republican challenger Patrick Morrisey.
Kondik added that notable evangelical leaders have mostly supported the current presidential administration and Republican candidates, for instance the Faith and Freedom Coalition, an organization with a mission to “speak out in the public arena and in the media on behalf of Christian values.”
The organization was founded by Ralph Reed, a former senior advisor to the Bush-Cheney campaigns. The Faith and Freedom Coalition’s page details the “remarkable record of achievement” of President Trump and criticizes the “socialistic anti-capitalist Obama.”
Churches by law aren’t allowed to endorse political candidates, but many of Richmond’s pastors declined to comment on the issue of Evangelical voters when contacted for this article.
But smaller and local churches are less vocal in their support of conservative politicians, said Kondik.
Dr. Tracy Hartman, dean and vice president of academic affairs at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, said that it’s difficult to paint religious groups with broad strokes and that religious teachers have a broad view of the effect of religion on voting.
“Our faith should make a difference in how we live our lives in every arena, not just politics,” said Hartman. “There is not one Baptist view on just about anything, especially related to politics.”
Hartman herself is not an evangelical, and the seminary considers itself a moderate Baptist organization, but they encounter and teach evangelical Baptists in their experience.
“We still interpret things through the lenses of who we are, we can’t help but do that,” said Hartman.
Alicia Thomas, a college administrator, said she grew up with a largely evangelical family.
“Church was a must every week, it was just something that we did, and it’s still a huge deal with my family,” she said
Thomas added that her family tends to lean Republican, attributing it partly to religion.
“People of the same religion tend to share the same values and beliefs, and that means politics too, especially if you spend a lot of time with them,” she said.
According to survey released last Monday by Public Religion Research Institute, 68 percent of evangelical protestants still hold a favorable view of President Trump.
EDITOR’S NOTE: WTVR.com has partnered with the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project at VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students from the project reported this story.