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Ingrained Sexism Helps Explain Why Evangelicals Support Trump

New research finds evangelical Protestants — especially Republicans — are highly biased against female political leaders.

By Tom Jacobs


Liberty University students wear home made T-shirts spelling TRUMP while waiting for the arrival of Republican candidate Donald Trump during a campaign rally on January 18, 2016. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Why is it that evangelical Protestants overwhelmingly support Donald Trump, a man who many would argue fails to embody modesty, piety, honesty, or any other virtue that Christians attempt to live by?

The results of a recently published study suggest at least one major reason: gender bias.

“A substantial proportion of evangelical Protestant Republicans — just shy of half of them — believe that men are better leaders than women,” High Point University political scientists Mark Setzler and Alixandra Yanus write in the journal Social Science Quarterly.

“Evangelical Protestantism — but not religious attendance more generally — is a strong predictor of whether Americans will hold biases against female political leaders.”

The findings help explain the results of a new Pew survey, which showed animus towardHillary Clinton is largely leading evangelical voters to support Trump. While some of this disdain is clearly driven by ideological differences, these results suggest stereotyped beliefs about the proper roles of men and women play a significant role in evangelical voters’ decision-making.

“Evangelicals believe that men both better represent their interests, and function more effectively in leadership roles.”

The researchers used data from Pew’s 2008 Religious Landscape Survey, which reported that “26.3 percent of American adults are active members of evangelical Protestant churches.” They examined voters’ stated beliefs regarding who “generally make better leaders,” and are “better at representing the interests of people like you.” The possible responses were “men,” “women,” and “both equally.”

“Even after controlling for partisanship, evangelicals are nearly twice as likely (as other voters) to believe that men make better political leaders than women,” the researchers report. “Evangelicals believe that men both better represent their interests, and function more effectively in leadership roles.”

Delving further into the data, they found “just over 22 percent of non-evangelical Republicans favor male leaders. Evangelical Republicans, however, have an estimated probability of preferring male leaders that is nearly twice that amount, 43 percent.”

Evangelical Democrats were also more likely to say men better represented their interests, but the percentages were far smaller: Around 18 percent expressed that belief, compared to 11 percent of non-evangelical members of that party.

Setzler and Yanus trace these trends to evangelical doctrine. They note that “its central teachings urge believers to maintain ‘a divinely sanctioned gender order,’” in which men are expected to provide leadership and women “tend to the private affairs of the family.” Clinton hardly follows in that mold.

The researchers caution that, “even after the effects of evangelical Protestantism and frequency of worship are taken into account, Republicans remain more likely than Democrats to prefer male political leaders.” Religious belief is hardly the whole story.

But it does help explain why, to the vast majority of evangelical Republicans, the notion of Clinton as commander-in-chief is so jarring that they’re willing to set aside their ethical concerns and vote for Trump.