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Have Evangelical Voting Patterns Changed?


One of the most intriguing plot lines in this year’s presidential election is the evangelical vote. Texas Senator Ted Cruz banked on it in the Southern states, but Donald Trump had the edge on Super Tuesday.

Sam Martin is a communications professor at SMU and she’s writing a book about evangelicals and politics.

Interview Highlights: Sam Martin…

…On the change in evangelical voting patterns:

"Evangelical voters seem to be behaving in ways that they haven’t in the past. Beginning in the late 1970s to early 80s, a lot of people who follow politics and conservative-minded voters have said evangelicals are primarily motivated over ‘values questions,’ like wanting to have restrictive abortion laws, wanting to defend traditional marriage, so they’ve supported candidates in that lane. But over the last four or eight years, commentators are saying that evangelicals are perhaps seeing that those culture wars might be over and maybe the so-called ‘secular left’ has won them."

..On why Trump may have done well in the Southern states:

Credit Krystina Martinez/KERA News
Sam Martin studies evangelical political behavior at SMU.

“The idea with Trump is that they’re motivated by this notion of someone just standing up and loudly declaring, ‘you do not have to be politically correct.’ Evangelicals are perhaps attracted to this idea that someone will just say, ‘my lifestyle is not politically correct, and if I cannot win the culture war, then at least I will have someone who will say, ‘it’ll be alright if I just live my life in a politically correct way.’”

…On the problem with the term “evangelical”:

“There’s no real agreement on what it means. It becomes this catch-all that is very difficult. Younger evangelicals are much less motivated by the social values questions than their forbearers have been…so the Republican party has to respond to that or else that explains a little bit about what’s going on.”

…On her takeaway from Super Tuesday:

“People don’t know what’s happening with the electorate. Anybody who had a guess of what they’re trying to say - the political commentary class - should just sit back and let the American people speak because I think it’s going to be a surprising next couple of months before we understand the message being sent.”  

Sam Martin is a communications professor at SMU. 

Former KERA staffer Krystina Martinez was an assistant producer. She produced local content for Morning Edition and She also produced The Friday Conversation, a weekly series of conversations with North Texas newsmakers. Krystina was also the backup newscaster for the Texas Standard.
Rick Holter was KERA's vice president of news. He oversaw news coverage on all of KERA's platforms – radio, digital and television. Under his leadership, KERA News earned more than 200 local, regional and national awards, including the station's first two national Edward R. Murrow Awards. He and the KERA News staff were also part of NPR's Ebola-coverage team that won a George Foster Peabody Award, broadcasting's highest honor.