Have evangelical voters lost their prolife priorities?

A recent Fox News Poll says that Donald Trump is leading the field of GOP candidates among evangelical voters. Fox News reports:

The top favorites among the white evangelical Christians are Trump (27 percent), Carson (14 percent), Cruz (12 percent), Bush (10 percent) and Huckabee (9 percent).

At 27 percent, Trump nearly doubles his closest rival, Ben Carson. This popularity among evangelicals is quite surprising in light of Trump’s stated views on abortion. Trump has said in recent days that he is open to continue some federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Moreover, Trump says that he favors the so-called “health” exception that makes abortion-on-demand legal throughout all nine months of pregnancy. Even though he says he’s prolife, these two statements are substantively pro-abortion rights.

So Trump is not exactly your typical evangelical pick for president. So what gives? Are evangelicals selling out their prolife priorities for a celebrity candidate? Maybe not.

The support from evangelicals who regularly attend church is less than half that of “evangelicals” broadly defined. According to Reuters, Trump’s support is only 11% among those who describe themselves as regular, church-going born-again Christians (HT: Jacob Lupfer).

I still think it’s difficult to explain why even 11% would support a candidate whose position on abortion is indistinguishable from your average pro-choicer. Perhaps there wouldn’t even be 11% if Trump’s views on abortion were more widely known. In any case, support among those who are Evangelicals by conviction is much lower than those who are Evangelicals in name only. And that is important.


  • Ian Shaw

    Makes sense. Politically, we’ve had RINO’s for years and years. Shouldn’t be surprised if we have EINO’s or CINO’s as well.

    Though I would say that stats show that many people lie in polls. I would take this poll with a grain of salt. Many people just jump on the bandwagon for my candidates if only for the mere fact of their popularity. Critical thinking is required to really flesh out a candidate’s true colors, as well as what voters really are looking for.

    Unfortunately, Trump’s attention seeking behavior isn’t exactly prompting critical thought from voters, but more pandering to the lowest common denominator.

  • steve hays

    Trump is rhetorically running against the establishment. That resonants with many voters. Unfortunately, you have voters who accept his claims at face value, even though he has zero credibility.

  • James Stanton

    Look, I think there’s been some revision of history in what Evangelical voters have been willing to accept regarding abortion views. I believe GWB opposed abortion in all cases except for rape, incest, and health of the mother and he had strong support from most Evangelicals throughout his Presidency.

    • steve hays

      Some problems with that comparison:

      i) At this stage we’re comparing one Republican contender with other Republican contenders (for the nomination). That’s different from comparing the GOP nominee with the Democrat candidate. At that later stage, it was Bush 41 v. Gore or Kerry.

      ii) Bush 41 ran for president about 16 years ago. How old was Denny Burk at that time? How developed were his political views back then?

      • James Stanton

        I’m not sure where the flaw is in the comparison. On abortion there should be consistency whether in the primary or the general election. My point is that in 2015 the social conservative consensus on abortion has changed. Both GWB and Mitt Romney were pro-life except in cases of rape, incest, and health of the mother. I haven’t checked but I’d say McCain had a similar position.

        • Denny Burk

          You are incorrect. They did not hold to the “health” exception. The “health” exception–as defined by Doe v. Bolton–allows for abortion on demand at any stage of pregnancy.

          • James Stanton

            I only searched for the abortion policy favored by GWB and Romney. I was not able to find in depth discussions of what these candidates thought about the “health” exception but I’ll take your word for it.

            I certainly agree that the health exception could allow for abortion on demand at any stage. I’ll note that you didn’t disagree about their views on rape and incest exceptions.

            • steve hays

              “I’ll note that you didn’t disagree about their views on rape and incest exceptions.”

              One can disagree with the candidate’s position on rape/incest exceptions and still support him over a candidate who supports abortion with few if any exceptions. That’s still a tremendous difference.

              • James Stanton

                Steve, I think you’ve been missing my point all along. None of my posts have been aimed at comparing a candidate who supports abortion to candidates who oppose abortion in most cases. You are making the obvious point that a generally pro-life candidate is superior to a pro-abortion candidate. No disagreement there.

                I was trying to show that there is an emerging consensus on abortion (no exceptions for rape, incest, or “health” of the mother) that wasn’t apparent in previous election cycles. See Marco Rubio. Say what you will but it concerning that pro-life candidates would be willing to moderate their positions on abortion in the general election.

        • steve hays

          No, primary and general election criteria are not the same. In primaries, it’s the most conservative electable candidate. In the general election, it’s whether the Democrat is even worse than the Republican.

  • Barbara Jackson

    I still don’t understand how he is a viable candidate at all. It seems to me as if the media is trumping this up (pun intended) just to make a big joke it of the conservative base. The man has no diplomacy whatsoever, he is a reality-TV hack who embodies everything our enemies despise about America: rank materialism, loudmouth pomposity, and an utter lack of couth. I do notice that Ben Carson – who continues to rise remarkably – is being all but ignored by the media as a whole so I really think this is just a liberal media game.

    • buddyglass

      If the liberal media is to blame for Trump’s popularity among likely GOP voters then that group seems to be pretty easily manipulated by the liberal media.

  • James Stanton

    In the hopes that at least one of my last 20 posted comments gets through instead of stuck in moderation..

    Trump comes across a lot like 90s era Pat Buchanan with regard to traditional values, immigration, foreign trade, and right-wing populism. The Evangelicals who like that kind of platform are probably going to like Trump.

    • buddyglass

      Not sure Trump is saying anything about immigration that Tom Tancredo didn’t say in 2008. Only Tancredo was relegated to fringe loony status.

    • steve hays

      That’s in inapt comparison. Although Buchanan is a fringe figure, he’s been consistent over the years. An eccentric but a sincere ideologue–unlike Trump, who is feigning a more conservative position. Trump is a default social liberal.

      I’d add that Buchanan was popular with libertarians who opposed the Iraq war.

      • James Stanton

        Perhaps. I’m not concerned with whether Trump is sincere or not as I won’t be voting for him. All that matters is what primary voters think of his message. McCain was far from a moral paragon and yet people voted for him.

    • Scott McCauley

      Ike, it seems like church attendance is as good a gauge as any. Are you suggesting the pollsters ask “are you a real evangelical, or a fake one?” πŸ™‚ I joke. What would be a better way, via a poll, to get at “real” vs “fake”?

    • buddyglass

      No, but it’s a proxy for the seriousness of one’s faith since “real” evangelicals view church attendance as non-negotiable. That is to say church attendance is necessary but not sufficient for one to be a “real” evangelical.

  • Mike Lynch

    More Christian leaders need to speak up about this man. Not only on the abortion issue, but on his character in general. He tends to retaliate. I wonder how he’d be favored by Christians if the the right Christian leader spoke out against him, made news, and he fired back. This is the second post I’ve seen from you Denny. Keep it up.

  • Christiane Smith

    Trump is an example of why I think that the Church should not become identified with any political party. The Church’s mission is to present Christ to the world. Is possible we would achieve far more good in remaining on mission than in openly pursuing political short-cuts to grave moral problems. There are no short-cuts to presenting Christ to those who need Him. I think we know that now, and if we don’t admit to it, perhaps we should repent of our lack of witness.

    • Ian Shaw


      I would agree, though there are clear moral issues that tend to be agreed upon by those that may identify themselves as conservatives. I believe that evangelicals should never have married into political parties as they did. It’s been a messy divorce process.

      I think you might enjoy this read. It’s a long piece and a 3 part, but it speaks lengths to what you said about how the Church should not be identified to 1 political party.

      • Christiane Smith

        Hi IAN,
        I would very much like to read the link, if you will post it for me. And thank you for responding. I am very concerned for what politics has done to some Christian people as far as their focus and their direction . . . these people are needed by the Church in their full capacity as witnesses to Our Lord . . . the politics never was a good substitute for that, although many folks seem well-intentioned, if not frustrated and impatient for change.

        The political world demands allegiances and the related compromises that flow from those allegiances . . . at best, with politics, people are often left with supporting the lesser of two evils;

        but for those in the Church, there can only be One Lord.

        • Ian Shaw

          Christiane, the link got deleted. google “elections and idolatry”. that should pull it up.

          I also believe that both political parties have borrowed/stole messianic themes and messages to get people to believe that a specific party can act as a “savior”. Which is completely wrong.

    • Brian Holland

      Christiane, you seem like a truly wonderful and very well intentioned person based on what I’ve seen you write in the past, however we witness by how we live our lives. We are called to be Salt and Light and to resist evil. I fear that your attitude is a HUGE part of the problem, and why the culture is crumbling around us. Innocent babies being brutally murdered is not a small issue for God. It was cause for judgement of Israel in OT. By protesting this evil, and calling people to repentance we are witnessing. By not speaking out we are failing in our witness to Almighty God, and dare I say denying Him.

  • Curt Day

    Maybe my own story on voting might help answer the questions. I haven’t voted for a pro-life candidate in years even though I am pro-life. Why? Because, as far as I can see and from what I hear from my pro-choice friends, for as long as we are wrecking the world by destroying the environment and waging war, abortion is a moot issue. True, abortion takes more lives than environmental destruction has thus far and the wars being waged. But, those two items provide a greater threat to everyone’s future than abortion. The destruction of the environment can make earth uninhabitable. So can the waging of war when such will lead to the eventual use of WMDs. How can I vote for any presidential candidate who is not addressing those issues?

    So when you add the above mix to how many conservative voters favor the reduction or elimination of social safety nets, the result is that because of the other political positions of many pro-lifers, we are only preaching to the choir about pro-life. As one former colleague told me, I was the only pro-life person he was willing to listen to because of what he saw as my consistency from my other positions.

    Just as a side note, perhaps the reason why Trump is beating the other conservative candidates is that Trump the most authoritarian of the candidates. And conservatives favor authoritarianism.

  • Ike Lentz

    Question for Denny/people who only vote for pro-life candidates: If voting pro-life is so important, why haven’t any of the republican presidents since Roe V Wade actually reversed the ruling?

    I’m not saying being pro-life is wrong, but if Reagan, Bush, and W didn’t do it, what makes you think another candidate would? It seems like the pro-life issue is just another carrot that republicans dangle every year for votes, then forget about when they take office.

    • steve hays

      Your question is odd. What makes you think a Republican president can unilaterally reverse a Supreme Court ruling? They best they can do is to indirectly influence future rulings by nominating judges whom they hope will be conservative. They can’t read the minds of nominees. And they can’t ensure confirmation of their nominees, since they don’t control the Senate.

      • Ike Lentz

        So if there’s almost nothing that a president can do to effect pro-life issues, why is it such a huge litmus test for presidents among evangelicals? What are practical actions that Evangelicals expect from a “pro-life” president, that they wouldn’t get from a democrat?

        • steve hays

          i) I didn’t suggest that there was “almost nothing a president can to to effect prolife issues.” I was merely correcting your oversimplified characterization.

          ii) How much a prolife president can do to change the composition of the Supreme Court is necessarily unpredictable.

          However, there’s a fundamental difference between a prolife president having a chance to do good in that regard and a proabortion president having a chance to do evil in that regard. An uncertain good is better than an uncertain evil.

          iii) In addition, what a prolife president can do with respect to abortion isn’t confined to the Supreme Court. Take the illegalities of Planned Parenthood. A prolife president can task the DOJ to investigate and prosecute wrongdoing.

          iv) In addition, a prolife position is generally part of a socially conservative package of positions. Even if a socially conservative president is stymied on the abortion front, he can still do good on other pressing social issues, viz., protecting First amendment liberties, opposing euthanasia, &c.

          • Ike Lentz

            Thanks for your answer, but it still seems like when it comes down to it, there isn’t much a president can do for pro-life issues.

            • steve hays

              i) To begin with, that’s circular. If, say, voters oscillate between electing prolife Republican and pro-abortion Democrats, then that curtails what a prolife Republican prize can do vis-a-vis the Supreme Court, since he has no control over when there are vacancies on the Supreme Court. But if, say, you had, two or three 2-term prolife Republicans in a row, then they’d have more opportunity to impact the composition of the Court.

              It also depends on having Republican control of the Senate to approve Republican nominees to the Supreme Court. When you divided gov’t, that’s harder to finesse.

              But even apart from the Supreme Court, Congress can pass laws restricting abortion. If, however, there’s a Democrat in the White House, that requires a veto-proof majority. Having a prolife Republican in the White House makes it easier to pass legislation restricting abortion.

              I believe that Congress has the authority to restrict the jurisdiction of the Federal judiciary, as well as the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. That, however, is a double-edge sword, for that can be used by either part in power.

              The issue isn’t confined to abortion. It concerns a range of issues.

              ii) Finally, as Obama has demonstrated, a pro-abortion president can do a great deal to advance the evil of abortion. Not to mention related evils, viz. euthanasia.

              • Ike Lentz

                i) It seems like the importance placed on a candidate’s pro-life position is disproportionate to how much they can actually enforce pro-life policy in office.

                ii) What would you say Obama has done, specifically, to advance the evil of abortion? What has changed about abortion since he took office?

                • Denny Burk

                  Ike, is this a serious question? President Obama’s healthcare law mandates that employers have to provide insurance plans that cover abortifacient drugs. If they fail to provide such access to abortifacients , then they face crippling fines.

                  That’s just one thing that was all over the news and that is still being litigated in the courts. The Little Sisters of the Poor (a charity run by nuns) are still waiting to find out whether they too will have to violate their conscience on this or go out of business.

                  If you think that the Presidency has little effect on abortion policy, you just aren’t paying attention. You need to read up.

                  • Ike Lentz


                    I’m not saying that a president has NO effect on abortion policy. It just seems like the overall difference between a pro-life or pro-choice president is marginal compared to the emphasis placed on that issue during elections. The healthcare mandate seems important, but it’s just a footnote compared to the larger issue, which is that for the last 40 years people have had equal access to legal abortion regardless of the R or D next to the president’s name.

                    I’m not trying to argue for abortion- I’m pro-life- but I’m fatigued by the constant hot air around the issue. To use a football analogy, if one goalpost is legal abortion, and the other is overturning Roe V Wade, it seems like, at most, a president is going to move the ball in either direction by a matter of a few yards, yet they campaign like the entire game is at stake. I’m just tired of being lied to.

                    • Denny Burk

                      I couldn’t disagree more. Just one example. Partial Birth Abortion would still be legal if Al Gore had become president instead of George W. Bush. Until Bush signed the partial birth abortion ban, it was legal to deliver a child four-fifths of the way and then jam an instrument into his skull to suction his brains out. That was legal until a pro-life President signed the ban in 2003. That is not a “marginal” achievement.

                  • Ike Lentz


                    Not to minimize the horror of partial birth abortions, but that type of abortion accounted for only 0.2 of the 1.3 million abortions performed in 2000, and the NRLC estimated that it was around 500 to 1000 a year. To go back to my football analogy, that’s Bush being credited as a strongly “pro-life” president for moving the ball less than a yard up the field.

                    I’m tired of candidates and conservative leaders paying lip service to the issue during campaign season and then putting it on the backburner when they have a chance to actually do something. If it’s impossible to effect real change, they should just say so, and stop pretending that there’s a real difference between (supposedly) pro-life and pro-choice candidate in the white house.

                    One last fact: historically speaking, there’s less than a 3% change in the number of abortions performed under a republican or democarat president, and that’s well within the margin of error. The most abortions were performed under Reagan. The least, under Obama.

                    • Denny Burk

                      It matters who is the president because the President appoints Supreme Court justices. We are one justice away from being able to overturn Roe V Wade. And you are calling for us to punt on first down. If you care about ending the greatest human rights crisis of our time, then you will support candidates who are committed ending it.

                    • steve hays

                      “One last fact: historically speaking, there’s less than a 3% change in the number of abortions performed under a republican or democarat president, and that’s well within the margin of error. The most abortions were performed under Reagan. The least, under Obama.”

                      We’ve discussed that before. It’s cumulative. Reagan nominated Bork, but that went down in flames, so he had to settle for less.

                      Bush 43 was able to replace two Justices, but that was canceled out by Obama.

                    • Ike Lentz

                      As we’ve seen with supreme court appointments, it’s never as simple as A) pick republican president B) they appoint perfect conservative judges C) Roe V Wade overturned. If it were, you’d see pro-life candidates campaigning on the promise to overturn Roe V Wade during their presidency, which they aren’t. It’s always a vague promise to protect the sanctity of life, fight for the unborn, etc, etc.

                      Denny, is there a candidate you honestly think will follow through with more than just small steps and symbolic rhetoric? I don’t see one.

                    • Denny Burk

                      Ike, you’re understanding of abortion politics is really skewed. If there’s one thing that both sides of the abortion debate agree on it’s that the Presidency matters–especially when it comes to the appointment of judges. Your opinion really is an outlier.

        • buddyglass

          The main thing a president does that affects (or could potentially affect) abortion law is appoint federal judges, including to the supreme court.

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