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Defining Evangelicals in an Election Year

Posted on | March 5, 2016 | No Comments

A new research method could help us get beyond political stereotypes.

After Super Tuesday, many media reported that evangelicals came out strongly in support of Republican frontrunner Donald Trump. Indeed, those who self-identify as evangelical made up either a majority or plurality of the Republican-leaning electorate in every Super Tuesday state except Massachusetts. So it’s striking that, just as Trump has seemingly secured support from evangelicals, many evangelicals leaders are criticizing him and even vowing to abandon the “e word.”

This election year gives CT readers another chance to ask: What exactly is an evangelical? Is it about beliefs, or church attendance, or political leanings, or something else entirely? In the following essay, which appears in our April print issue, National Association of Evangelicals president Leith Anderson and LifeWay Research executive director Ed Stetzer have devised a timely way to answer these questions. —Katelyn Beaty, print managing editor

These days, everyone wants to know what evangelicals believe—especially about political issues.

Researchers have asked evangelicals what they think about same-sex marriage, science, the death penalty, immigration, and, especially, whom they plan to vote for in the upcoming election.

That’s understandable. Americans who identify as white evangelicals remain a powerful voting bloc in the United States—representing 1 out of every 5 voters in recent presidential elections, according to The Pew Research Center. And most—about 8 in 10—have voted Republican in at least one election. So it’s no surprise that Donald Trump recently proclaimed, “I am an evangelical.”

But who is an evangelical? Many pollsters and journalists assume that evangelicals are white, …

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