By Aaron Earls
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A slim majority of pastors say they approve of the job President Donald Trump has done in the White House, but many are unsure.
A new study from Nashville-based Lifeway Research of Protestant senior pastors found 51 percent approve of how President Trump has handled the job, with 25 percent strongly approving.
“After almost two years of actions and statements from the White House, most pastors likely consider some positive and others negative,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research.
“When asked to evaluate the president’s job performance with no neutral option, most pastors approve.”
Still, almost 3 in 10 (28 percent) disapprove and another 20 percent say they aren’t sure.
Pastors were specifically prompted to evaluate the president’s job performance, said McConnell. There is no lack of data on President Trump, but many were still hesitant to give an opinion.
“Compared to the middle of President Obama’s first term, we see twice as many pastors say they’re undecided on President Trump’s job performance,” said McConnell.
In a leadup to the 2010 midterm elections, a Lifeway Research survey found 30 percent of Protestant pastors approved of President Obama’s job performance. More than 6 in 10 (61 percent) disapproved and only 9 percent said they were not sure.
“There is no lack of information on what President Trump is doing or how he is doing it,” said McConnell, “so the undecided posture appears to be an unwillingness to identify with either of the political sides that have emerged in American politics.”
The hesitancy of pastors to take sides where Donald Trump is concerned stretches back to the presidential election.
Despite 52 percent of Protestant pastors identifying as a Republican and only 18 percent calling themselves a Democrat in the Lifeway Research survey prior to the November 2016 election, only 32 percent said they planned to vote for Trump. A full 40 percent said they were undecided, with 19 percent planning to vote for Hillary Clinton.
Politically Divided Pastors
Pastors’ opinions on President Trump’s performance highlight divisions among the group, which often fall along political lines.
African-American pastors are the least likely to approve of the president’s handling of the job. Only 4 percent approve of his performance, while 85 percent disapprove.
Outside of African-Americans, pastors are much more split. Slightly more than half of white pastors (54 percent) approve, along with slightly less than half of pastors of other ethnicities (47 percent).
“In 2016, only 6 percent of African-American pastors identified as Republican,” said McConnell, “and nothing in President Trump’s first two years has generated approval from African-American pastors beyond that level.”
Younger pastors are the least likely age group to approve of the president’s performance. Four in 10 (41 percent) of those 18 to 44 say he’s done a good job, while 56 percent of those 45 and older support President Trump’s job performance.
Those young pastors are also more likely to say they’re not sure about the president. A quarter are unsure, compared with 18 percent of pastors 55 to 64 and 16 percent of pastors 65 and older.
In 2016, pastors 18 to 44 were the least likely to identify with a political party and least likely to support Donald Trump as a candidate, said McConnell.
“They are less tied to traditional political identities and remain slow to express approval of President Trump.”
Pastors’ responses are also split across denominations. Pentecostals (86 percent) and Baptists (68 percent) are most likely to approve of the president’s performance.
Church of Christ pastors (55 percent) and Lutherans (41 percent) are more split, while few Presbyterian/Reformed (28 percent) and Methodists (25 percent) say they support the job President Trump has done.
Even in these denominational divides, the views of the president’s performance largely follow political leanings, according to McConnell.
In 2016, pastors in Pentecostal (76 percent) and Baptist (67 percent) churches were most likely to be Republicans. Pastors in Presbyterian/Reformed (29 percent) and Methodist (25 percent) churches were least likely to say they’re part of the GOP.
Other findings in 2018 include:
- Pastors of churches with less than 50 in attendance are the least likely to approve of President Trump’s job performance (42 percent).
- Pastors in the South (55 percent) and West (57 percent) are more likely to approve than those in the Northeast (40 percent).
- Male pastors (56 percent) are more likely to approve than female pastors (30 percent).
- Pastors with no college degree (71 percent) or a bachelor’s degree (67 percent) are more likely to approve than those with a master’s degree (41 percent) or a doctoral degree (52 percent).
- Self-identified evangelical pastors (63 percent) are more likely to approve than self-identified mainline pastors (41 percent).
“With the majority of Protestant pastors identifying as Republican, it is not surprising that a majority approve of President Trump in his first term,” said McConnell.
“Clearly, pastors’ political views factor in how they evaluate the president’s leadership and accomplishments in the first half of his term.”
Aaron Earls is online editor of Facts & Trends and a writer for Lifeway Christian Resources.
The phone survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors was conducted Aug. 29-Sept. 11, 2018. The calling list was a stratified random sample, drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Quotas were used for church size. Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor, minister or priest of the church called. Responses were weighted by region to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.2 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.
Comparisons are made to phone surveys of 1,000 Protestant pastors conducted by Lifeway Research Aug. 22-Sept. 16, 2016 and Oct. 7-14, 2010 using the same methodology.
Lifeway Research is a Nashville-based, evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect churches.