How Trump has changed white evangelicals’ views about morality

Have white evangelicals made an allowance only for Trump, or have they reconsidered their opinions on private and public morality more broadly? We tested this with two other versions of the same question. One starts with, “Many supporters of Donald Trump have argued,” followed by the identical statement about an elected official who commits a privately immoral act. The other harks back to the Monica Lewsinky scandal that led to Bill Clinton’s impeachment. “When he was president, many supporters of Bill Clinton argued . . .” To avoid the possibility of one question affecting responses to the others, respondents were randomly assigned to receive only one of the three variations: the “generic,” Trump, or Clinton version.

White evangelicals had a substantially different reaction when asked about Trump or Clinton. When primed to think about Trump, only 6 percent of them say that an elected official who acts immorally in private is incapable of being ethical in public life. But when Bill Clinton is mentioned, that rises to 27 percent — a 21-point increase.

By comparison, Catholics differed by only five points when asked about Trump or Clinton. And, as we might expect, mentioning Clinton makes secular Americans less likely to worry about the public ethics of a privately immoral official.