Pew Research

Every four years, American political journalists, who rarely interest themselves in spiritual matters outside of election cycles, act out their own sort of religious ritual: foretelling “the evangelical vote.” Think back to February 2016, after Donald Trump had won his large victory in the Republican primary in New Hampshire, but before South Carolina had voted. He was not supposed to win that state, because there are a lot of evangelicals there, and evangelicals, our soothsayers told us, did not like Donald Trump. They did not like him because he was Donald Trump, and we all know that story, but also because he mistakenly referred to “Two Corinthians”instead of “Second Corinthians” when he spoke to evangelicals at Liberty University.

As it turned out, Trump’s biblical mishap didn’t matter. He won South Carolina handily, and went on to capture 81 percent of the white evangelical vote in November, beating the previous high of 78 percent for George W. Bush in 2004. (By comparison, Ronald Reagan won only 67 percent of evangelicals, and Jimmy Carter—a Southern Baptist whose candidacy marked for many secular observers the emergence of evangelicalism as a political force—won even fewer.) The outcome called into question plenty of assumptions about evangelicals and their political agenda. How could the so-called “Christian Right,” believed to vote according to a fiercely moral agenda, embrace the most impious presidential candidate in American history?