As the 2020 presidential race gains momentum, religion is shaping up as a surprisingly important issue and a key sector of voters sought by both parties this time.
Faith voters were a vital segment of Donald Trump’s GOP primary campaign in 2015-16 and the general election that year. This despite Trump’s three marriages, alleged affairs and sometimes sexually explicit language, a fact that Democrats still find difficult to believe.
In fact, conservative evangelical voters have been a major part of Trump’s stubbornly rock-solid political base his entire term. There’s no accident that he announced his reelection campaign this week in the South and the Republican National Convention will be held in Charlotte next summer.
A poll by the respected Pew Research Center earlier this year found that seven-of-ten white evangelical Protestants still support the incumbent. That’s a solid mass, though down slightly from nearly eight-of-ten 29 months ago.
Trump has consistently supported issues of importance to the religious faithful, including religious freedom and opposing prosecutions of groups and individuals over their religious decisions, including the Little Sisters of the Poor.
Evangelical leaders such as the Rev. Jerry Falwell have also stood with Trump.
The Pew report found the religiously unaffiliated, agnostics and atheists showed the least support for Trump. But:
In most of the 11 surveys conducted by the Center since Trump’s inauguration, between 46% and 55% of white mainline Protestants have approved of the president, including 48% in the January 2019 survey. Around half of white Catholics have approved of Trump in these surveys, including 44% in January.
For years Democrats have played down the talk of faith, at times even forfeiting the subject to Republicans. At their recent conventions, including 2012 in Charlotte, Democrats made serious attempts to delete the word God from their party platform.
This time may be at least slightly different. During a recent campaign swing through Iowa, Pete Buttigieg drew loud applause when he told party members: “Faith isn’t the property of one political party.”
In 2019, however, some lagging Democrats like Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker are using their faith as justification for their liberal positions on such topics as abortion and same-sex marriage.
Booker, for example, cites the need for “civic grace” in his pleas for criminal justice reform. Gillibrand says her abortion support originates from her belief in free will, “a core tenet of Christianity.”
In one interview Buttigieg said:
At a moment when we see families being ripped apart at the border, when we see people’s health care put at risk, when we see policies designed to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted, it calls into question how anybody on board with the current mess in Washington can claim to be doing so in accordance with their faith.
Al Sharpton, who sought the Democrat nomination in 2004, added: “We let the right wing hijack the Bible and the flag.”