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More than half of US pastors set to vote for Trump, new poll shows

by Will Maule

More than half of US protestant pastors (53%) are set to vote for incumbent President Donald Trump at next month's US presidential election, according to a new poll.

In its latest election survey, Lifeway Research found that 98% of Protestant pastors plan to vote in the presidential election, with a quarter still undecided on their chosen candidate. Around 1 in 5 (21%) of those polled say they will vote for Trump's Democratic rival and former Vice President, Joe Biden. Around 4% said they would be voting for a different candidate.

Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, said: "Pastors vote like any other American. The large number of pastors who are still undecided may reflect difficulty in finding a candidate who aligns with their overall beliefs.

"Also, some pastors are intensely private about their political preferences and may prefer to respond ‘undecided’ than to even confidentially share their voting intentions.”

In comparison to similar polling done ahead of the 2016 election, Trump has a significantly higher level of support among pastors. Four years ago, 40% of pastors were undecided midway through September. At the time, around a third supported Trump while Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's support was at 19%.

"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,” said McConnell. “Pastors know their options for 2020, and a majority are willing to vote for him.”

When it comes to evangelical pastors as a group, Trump's support becomes even stronger, with Lifeway finding that almost 7 in 10 (68%) say they plan to vote for the president, compared to 20% of mainline pastors. Another recent Lifeway survey found that 6 in 10 Americans who hold evangelical beliefs (61%) plan to pick Trump over Biden (29%).

Among African American pastors, some 61% choose Biden, while just 6% say they plan to vote for Trump.

When breaking the figures down into the various denominations, Pentecostal (70%) and Baptist pastors (67%) are more likely to vote for Trump than pastors in the Restorationist movement (49%), Lutherans (43%), Presbyterian/Reformed (24%) or Methodists (22%).

In terms of the key issues that will sway their vote, pastors say that a candidate’s position on abortion (70%), their ability to protect religious freedom (65%) and their likely Supreme Court nominees (62%) are important factors.

Other factors include improving the economy (54%), ability to maintain national security (54%), personal character (53%), their position on immigration (51%), ability to address racial injustice (51%) and their position on the size and role of government (47%).

Roughly a third say the candidate’s ability to slow the spread of Covid-19 is important to them. 

“A microcosm of the national debate about COVID-19 has been directed at pastors this year as they have made decisions about necessary precautions for their own church,” McConnell added. “Despite the drastic changes the pandemic has caused to ministry and church practices, most pastors give much higher priority to other national concerns than a candidate’s ability to slow the spread of this virus.”

The US presidential election will take place on 3 November. 

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