"Holy" Cow: Donald Trump's Bible Belt Power


Tuesday’s big wins by Donald Trump prove once again that he has staying power with evangelicals and that without them; he does not win many of the states that he has secured. But it goes beyond that.  It bears taking a closer look.

The narrative so far is that Ted Cruz wins with evangelicals who attend church more often and Trump wins with more of the, “Cultural Christians” who show up in church far less frequently. Indeed, the numbers bear that out. Look at Missouri where Trump and Cruz battled to a virtual tie: Cruz beats Trump by 26% with those who attend church MORE than once a week (57%-31%). These are the die-hard churchgoers. As far as the folks who go to church a few times a year, Trump wins easily over Cruz (48%-22%). But here’s where this simple narrative gets a bit more complicated. Look at that figure above regarding people who attend church MORE than once a week. Trump is still pulling in 31% of those folks! Do you understand the implication of that number? First of all, Trump’s evangelical appeal is NOT just with casual cultural Christians. Yes, it’s his main portion but by winning 31% of the, “church-going die-hards” he makes Missouri a competitive state rather than a simple Cruz victory. You see, Cruz has to pull a better number than 57% among the devoutly faithful crowd. It’s a solid number, but Trump beats Cruz solidly with the cultural Christian crowd so the only way for Cruz to win evangelical-heavy states is to run up the number among the, “more religious crowd.” He’s really not doing that and that’s made a HUGE difference. Bottom line: don’t just easily assume that ONLY the cultural Christian crowd is powering Trump. He’s pulling in his fair share of weekly churchgoers too and it’s denting Cruz’s ascent while helping Trump win the overall evangelical vote in these evangelical-heavy states.

The other problem for Cruz is that even in states where Cruz wins the overall evangelical vote, the size of his victory is not as large as Trump’s margin over Cruz among non-evangelicals.  Take a look at what happened in North Carolina. Cruz won the evangelical vote over Trump 43%-41% but he lost the NON-evangelical vote to Trump, 38%-23%. Therefore, Cruz can’t simply win the evangelical vote by a narrow margin because Trump does much better among non-evangelicals. He has to run up the score. He did run up the evangelical vote total in Oklahoma and won. But for Cruz, there haven’t been enough of them.

One other very important point: Let’s look at Missouri again. Cruz needed to run up the score in the Bible Belt in that state to secure victory. That means he needed to do very well in the Southwestern Missouri areas of Greene, Christian, Stone and Taney Counties, all of which have large evangelical Christian populations. Guess what? It didn’t exactly happen that way at all. Have a look:

Christian County: Cruz: 53% Trump 35%
Greene County: Cruz: 52% Trump: 32%
Stone County: Trump: 48% Cruz: 39%
Taney County: Trump: 47% Cruz: 39%

Folks, this is NOT good news for Cruz. He won two of those Bible Belt counties but even so, Cruz’s number is just not high enough to bury Trump. In the other two counties, he actually LOST to Trump in the heart of the Bible Belt. For a point of reference, in Taney County, which Trump won by 8%, Mike Huckabee won that county in 2008 by a 30% differential over John McCain. Cruz needed to pull a Huckabee number and not only did he not do that, he actually LOST to Trump.

The Brody File has written extensively about the reasons why Trump is doing well with evangelicals. Read my USA Today Op-Ed here and here.


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