Donald Trump has broken another political rule: The old saw that only devout candidates can attract religious voters no longer applies.
A new Pew Research Center poll finds he is widely seen as the least religious presidential candidate in the field, but that hasn’t stopped more than half of white evangelical voters and more than half of Republican voters from believing that he would make a great or good president.
Only 5% of Republicans view Trump as very religious, the report finds, a sharp contrast to 47% for Ben Carson, 30% for Ted Cruz, and 20% for Marco Rubio. Yet Trump ties with Carson for the highest share of white evangelicals who say he would be a great or good leader in the White House. While 52% of white evangelicals say Carson and Trump would do a great or good job, only 49% say the same for Cruz and 34% say the same for Rubio.
“Many Republicans think Trump would be a good president despite his perceived lack of religiousness,” the report finds. “The pattern is very different for the other leading GOP candidates; virtually all Republicans who think Cruz, Rubio and Carson would be successful presidents (and who express a view about their religiousness) also say they view those candidates as at least somewhat religious.”
In all, six in ten American voters say they think Trump is “not too” religious, or not religious at all, compared to 43% who say the same about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and 35% who say the same about Bernie Sanders.
The new poll, “Faith and the 2016 Campaign,” comes less than a week before the Iowa Caucuses and a day after evangelical Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. endorsed Trump, and shortly after Trump visited a Presbyterian church in Iowa where a pastor preached about welcoming immigrants. When asked what his faith meant to him before the service, Trump replied, “A lot.”
Voters also express “considerably more wariness” about Trump than about Carson or Cruz: “three-in-ten evangelicals (29%) say Trump would be a ‘poor’ or ‘terrible’ president, which is roughly twice the share who say this about either Cruz or Carson,” the report states.
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Other top findings of the report include:
- Hillary Clinton is seen as a significantly less religious person than when she ran for president in 2007—then, 24% of adults said she was not too religious, now its 43%.
- Barack Obama is also seen as nearly four times less religious now than he was in 2007—then, just 9% of adults said he was not too religious, now its 35%.
- Half of Americans think religious conservatives have “too much control” over the Republican Party, while 44% think non-religious liberals have “too much control” over the Democratic Party.
- Americans are increasingly comfortable with a presidential candidate who is an atheist.
Pew surveyed 2,009 people by landline and cellphone to conduct the poll. The margin of error for the entire sample is 2.5%.