A subset of President Donald Trump's supporters sincerely believe that his presidency was preordained by God. While this conviction has been widely reported (and ridiculed), it might be surprising to learn that more Americans associate the president with a figure from the opposite end of the spiritual spectrum.
New research reports that, while 17.2 percent of Americans believe Trump's election "is a reflection of God's will," 27.7 percent believe he is "working for the devil." That same percentage replied affirmatively to the statement: "The devil is using Donald Trump for his purposes."
This tendency toward demonization, along with the even more widespread belief that Trump's election amounts to a desecration of American values, "may help to explain the heightened levels of distress" following his election, writes a research team led by psychologist Serena Wong of Bowling Green State University.
The study, in the journal Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, featured 252 American voters recruited online via Amazon's Mechanical Turk website. The participants' political affiliations were broadly in line with that of the population as a whole.
In asking for their "spiritual appraisals" of the 2016 election results, participants were invited to substitute a different word for "God," such as "Allah" or "Higher Power," if it fit their personal belief system better.
The subjects responded to three statements referring to the "sanctification" of Trump's election. Using a one-to-seven scale, they noted their level of agreement with such assertions as: "Mr. Trump's presidency is part of a larger spiritual plan."
They were then presented with six statements asserting that Trump's election had been influenced by demonic or evil forces. Using a zero-to-five scale, they indicated the extent to which they agreed with statements including: "The devil is using Donald Trump for his purposes."
Finally, participants responded to five statements designed "to assess the degree to which individuals perceive President Trump's election as a desecration of personal/spiritual values." Again using a zero-to-five scale, they reported the degree to which they agreed with statements such as: "The election of Donald Trump was both an offense against me and God."
The results suggest that our nation's polarization is spiritual as well as political.
"Approximately one-fifth of participants sanctified the election of President Trump to some degree, with up to 21 percent appraising his presidency as part of a larger spiritual plan," Wong and her colleagues write.
"Conversely, approximately one-third of participants endorsed some level of negative spiritual appraisals. For instance, 32 percent of voters endorsed that 'the devil played a role in this election.'"
In other words, a lot more Americans associate Trump with the devil than with the almighty. A few more figures: Among study participants, 28.7 percent agreed, at least to an extent, that "the results of the election reflect what the devil wants." And a majority—54.4 percent—expressed agreement with the statement: "The election of Donald Trump was an immoral act against something I value."
Interestingly, the researchers discovered no significant differences in spiritual appraisals between Christian and non-Christian participants. This fact suggests that "sanctification, demonization, and desecration are psycho-spiritual processes that can occur across faith traditions," they write.
The researchers further found that "negative spiritual appraisal predicted poorer post-election psychological adjustment." Accepting that your candidate lost can be difficult, but when you believe the winning candidate desecrates your deeply held values, the level of pain becomes significantly higher.
These figures are worth keeping in mind during the upcoming campaign, as reporters interview Evangelical Christians about their vision of Trump as some sort of savior. The findings suggest that, for every 20 such people, around 33 take precisely the opposite position, viewing the president as either a literal or metaphorical manifestation of hell.