If you’re wondering who those “undecided” voters are, it turns out a portion of them are pastors.
New research by LifeWay Research found 53% of America’s Protestant pastors said they intend to vote for Donald Trump and 21% said they intend to vote for Joe Biden. However, 22% said they are still undecided. Another 4% said they are voting for a different candidate.
The polling was conducted in September, so opinions could have solidified since then. But in an election season that appears to be so starkly polarized, there remain voters who won’t decide their choice until the last minute.
“The large number of pastors who are still undecided may reflect difficulty in finding a candidate who aligns with their overall beliefs,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “Also, some pastors are intensely private about their political preferences and may prefer to respond ‘undecided’ than to even confidentially share their voting intentions.”
“The large number of pastors who are still undecided may reflect difficulty in finding a candidate who aligns with their overall beliefs.”
However, 98% of Protestant pastors said they intend to vote.
LifeWay found that despite Donald Trump’s moral liabilities, he currently enjoys more support among Protestant pastors than he did at the same point in the 2016 election cycle.
In 2016, LifeWay Research found 40% of pastors were undecided midway through September. Another 32% supported Trump and 19% supported Hillary Clinton. Trump’s mid-September support is 13 points higher this year than it was in 2016.
“There were a lot of unknowns in 2016, including Trump being an outsider candidate and little sense of how others would respond to supporting his candidacy,” McConnell. said “Pastors know their options for 2020, and a majority are willing to vote for him.”
Pentecostal pastors are the most likely to support Trump, with 70% saying he’ll get their vote, followed by Baptist pastors at 67%. In general, 68% of pastors who are self-identified “evangelicals” say they’ll vote for Trump.
Mainline pastors aren’t as supportive of the incumbent president. LifeWay found only 43% of Lutheran pastors plan to vote for him, along with 24% of Presbyterian/Reformed pastors and 22% of Methodist pastors.
Those numbers look different when sorted by race and age, however.
LifeWay found 61% of Black pastors intend to vote for Joe Biden and only 6% intend to vote for Trump. Younger pastors, age 18 to 44, are the least likely age group to back Trump, at 41%.
Younger pastors, age 18 to 44, are the least likely age group to back Trump, at 41%.
Abortion and religious liberty were cited as the most important issues driving pastors’ presidential votes this year, the survey found. Nationally, 70% of Protestant pastors said a candidate’s position on abortion was important to their vote and 65% said a candidate’s ability to protect religious freedom was important.
About half (53%) said the candidate’s personal character is important for earning their vote. Again, that looks different when sorted by denominational affiliation. Among mainline pastors, 73% said personal character matters, compared to only 46% of evangelical pastors.
LifeWay found the voting preferences of evangelical pastors mirrors the political preferences of evangelical Christians on the whole. Its survey found 61% of American evangelicals intend to vote for Trump, which is only slightly less than the 68% of evangelical pastors who intend to do the same. That 7-point difference, however, indicates a small gap between the views of evangelicals in the pew and those in the pulpit.
Separately, new research by the Pew Research Center found Trump continues to enjoy strong support among white Christians but his support is slipping among white Catholics, white Protestants and even white evangelicals.
White Christians as a group stand in contrast to every other religious group in their support for Trump, the Pew research found. The Pew survey was conducted at the end of the polling period used by LifeWay.
Among white Catholic voters, Trump leads Biden by only 8 percentage points (52% to 44%). Pew adds this interpretation: “This gap has narrowed significantly — Trump was 19 points ahead of Biden (59% to 40%) the last time this question was asked in a poll conducted in late July and early August.”
Trump’s support from white Protestants who do not consider themselves to be evangelical or born-again also has dropped, registering at 53% compared to 59% in the summer poll. The Pew report adds: “Even white evangelical Protestants have softened slightly in their support for Trump, though they overwhelmingly remain on his side: 78% of white evangelicals intend to cast ballots for Trump, compared with 83% who said this in August.”
The Pew data aligns with LifeWay data in showing a marked difference in attitudes among Black voters versus white voters. Among Black Protestant registered voters, 90% told Pew they favor Biden. Similarly, 70% of Jews and 67% of Hispanic Catholics favor Biden. And among these groups, Biden’s support has not changed.
Pew reports that white Christians make up about 44% of U.S. registered voters while 7% of registered voters are Black Protestants, 5% are Hispanic Catholics, 2% are Jewish and 28% are religiously unaffiliated.