Portland State University. Department of Political Science
Term of Graduation
Date of Publication
Master of Arts (M.A.) in Political Science
1 online resource (iv, 124 pages)
This thesis addressed the conundrum that 81 percent of evangelicals supported Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, despite the fact that his character and comportment commonly did not exemplify the values and ideals that they professed. This was particularly perplexing to many outside (and within) evangelical circles, because as leaders of America's "Moral Majority" for almost four decades, prior to Trump's campaign, evangelicals had insisted that only candidates who set a high standard for personal integrity and civic decency, were qualified to serve as president.
In order to deal with this problem, I conducted a qualitative study, which followed the ensuing procedures. First, I conducted a general review of the history of evangelical participation in American politics (discussed in chapter two). Second, I conducted a general review of public statements made (in video, audio, and written formats) by prominent evangelical leaders, who supported Trump's 2016 presidential run (discussed in chapter three). Third, I conducted a general review of public statements made (in video, audio, and written formats) by prominent evangelical leaders, who opposed Trump's 2016 presidential run (discussed in chapter four). And finally, I compared and contrasted the arguments that both groups of evangelical leaders made (discussed in chapter five), to enable the reader to understand (and perhaps empathize with) the full nuance of perspectives that existed within the broader evangelical movement. Although I focused preeminently on the works of self-identifying evangelicals, I also consulted a significant sampling of relevant supplemental works by non-evangelical writers, which provided insightful historical, sociology and psychological analysis.
I uncovered the following research findings in his study. The three key categories of arguments made by evangelicals who supported Trump pertained to evangelical theology (which undergirds their belief system); evangelical access (which Trump provided them within his administration); and evangelical policies (which Trump promised to champion). And the three key categories of arguments made by evangelicals who opposed Trump pertained to the conflation of the gospel with politics; Trump's deficient moral leadership; and Trump's threat to social justice.
In the final analysis, I concluded that evangelicals who supported Trump emphasized the preeminent importance of his policy agenda, which when enacted, would enable them to live out their faith authentically, proclaim the gospel freely and revive Christian nationalism, to secure God's protection and prosperity for the nation. And the six key policies that these evangelicals prioritized were the nomination of conservative judges; the protection of religious liberty; the promotion of Israel's welfare; the advancement of the pro-life agenda; the effective enforcement of immigration law; and the perpetuation of Republican, fiscal conservativism.
Conversely, evangelicals who opposed Trump emphasized the preeminent importance of believers committing to lend their credibility, only to presidential candidates who upheld a high standard of moral decency and civility, so the gospel was disassociated from the pursuit of state power and resources and social justice for the most vulnerable members of society was maintained. Even if it meant that Hillary Clinton won the presidency and pursued a left-wing policy agenda that ran cross-grain to their values, these evangelicals determined to follow the dictates of their consciences and trust God with the results.
Future researchers may wish to evaluate whether the respective percentages of evangelicals who support and oppose Trump shift substantially, in the run-up to the next election, based on the president's job performance during his first term. And these researchers may also wish to observe, in what ways (if any) evangelical leaders who support and oppose Trump respectively, modify their arguments throughout his 2020 presidential campaign.
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Zichterman, Joseph Thomas, "Understanding Evangelical Support for, and Opposition to Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election" (2020). Dissertations and Theses. Paper 5570.