Why do religious Trump voters support him more when they hold more liberal attitudes? We see two possible explanations.
The first explanation is that partisanship is so central to their values that all else is secondary, including their religion. This is (loosely) the argument in political scientist Michele Margolis’s new book and in several other academics’ work, as well. But the paradoxical relationship that we’re seeing here among Trump voters suggests that churchgoers are linking their views with their politics in ways quite different from those who don’t attend church. Something else must be happening.
So here’s another possible explanation. We suspect that people are responding to these surveys with the responses they think are more socially desirable — not with their actual feelings. Religious congregations expect their members to conform to a set of beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. Religious voters are likely to be highly tuned to social norms — like racial inclusion and support for the refugee — that leads them to say they support minority groups and immigrants. At the same time, many American congregations strongly support Trump and expect members to view him loyally. That powerful social norm is what we’re seeing expressed in these surveys.