NEW YORK (Christian Examiner) – Polling giant Gallup is debunking the myth of high levels of evangelical support for presidential candidate Donald Trump.
In fact, more in-depth analysis of evangelicals suggests Trump's favorability among extremely religious Republican campaign watchers is significantly lower than has been reported.
Gallup's Frank Newport reports "assumptions about Trump's level of support among evangelicals appear to be based on trial heat polls wherein Republicans are forced to choose one and only one candidate for whom they would, in theory, vote."
"A better view of Trump's image among this group comes from our Gallup data in which Republicans are asked about their views of each candidate individually. This provides a more comprehensive view of the candidates," Newport writes.
"The data include our standard measure of those we define as 'highly religious – based on self-reports of religious service attendance and importance of religion in their daily lives. My research shows this provides a close approximation of the various ways in which the term 'evangelical' can be operationalized."
Gallup conducted the detailed poll Aug. 1- Sept. 8, and it reveals that Trump is in the bottom tier of candidates when it comes to favorability among the "highly religious," with only 22 percent viewing the real estate tycoon favorably. Among the "moderately religious," only 22 percent viewed Trump favorably, and among the non-religious the number is even lower, at 17 percent.
The numbers suggest a stark reality for Trump: playing the evangelical card while touting mainline Presbyterian credentials and being unable to quote a verse in the Bible is enough to make evangelicals steer clear of a candidate.
According to Gallup's study, Ben Carson's favorability rating among the highly religious tops all of the other presidential candidates at 56 percent. He is followed by Mike Huckabee (49 percent), Marco Rubio (49 percent), Ted Cruz (45 percent), Scott Walker (45 percent), Carly Fiorina (36 percent), and Bobby Jindal (29 percent). Jeb Bush and Rick Santorum, both Roman Catholics, trail among the highly religious at 25 percent each.
Among the moderately religious, Gallup reports Trump's favorability rating lags behind Carson's (52 percent), Rubio's (41 percent), Cruz's (39 percent). Huckabee and "the Donald" share the same favorability among the group at 36 percent.
Carson also has the highest favorability rating among the non-religious at 35 percent, followed by Fiorina and Rubio at 27 and 26 percent, respectively.
"The results show that Trump does not, in fact, receive high levels of support from highly religious Republicans. His net favorable rating is 12th in the list of 17 GOP candidates among highly religious Republicans. Ben Carson is the clear leader among the highly religious group," Newport writes.
Still, stories about Trump's supposed lead among evangelicals keep cropping up.
National Public Radio's Jessica Taylor published a column Sept. 13 that said "the candidate currently leading among the most faith-filled voters is a twice-divorced casino mogul, who isn't an active member of any church, once supported abortion rights, has a history of crass language — and who says he's never asked God's forgiveness for any of it."
NPR opined that it is Trump's message of American exceptionalism that is resonating with voters and, to evangelical voters, his pledge "Make America Great Again" means returning it to its "evangelical roots."
"That redeeming message — and his tough talk on immigration, foreign policy and the Republican establishment — is quite literally trumping traditional evangelical concerns about a candidate's morality or religious beliefs," Taylor wrote.
Trump has apparently noted he is losing traction among the faithful. Mediaite reported Sept. 10 that Trump was looking to some evangelical regain ground lost to Carson through the month of August.
When asked by Chris Cuomo, host of CNN's New Day, about his Presbyterian background, Trump went after Ben Carson instead, claiming faith wasn't at the center of Carson's life – in spite of his countless speeches on faith and his book, Gifted Hands, in which he describes his conversion to Christianity.
Cuomo said Carson was "a man of faith, everybody knows that. It's a cornerstone of his existence and certainly his motivation to run."
"Well I don't know that. I had not heard that. I have known of Ben Carson for a long time and never heard faith was a big thing until just recently when he started running. So I don't know about Ben Carson's faith," Trump said.
Cuomo objected, noting Carson's devotion to his Seventh Day Adventist faith.
"All of a sudden he becomes the great religious figure. I don't think he's a great religious figure. I saw him yesterday quoting on humility, and it looked like he memorized it two minutes before he made the quote. So don't tell me about Ben Carson," Trump said.