Posted on April 14, 2020

The Trump Campaign Wants to Win the Votes of Evangelicals of Color

Julie Zauzmer and Michelle Boorstein, Washington Post, April 13, 2020

A day after she drove an hour south and stood alone in the crowd, anxious, looking at the faces in the room and wondering what these people had to say to her, Rosalyn Johnson was still marveling a little bit at what she had done.

“Black girl goes down to a Trump rally!” she laughed, shaking her head.

Then she grew more serious. “Black people are saying, ‘We’re not voting for him.’ But what if God causes Donald Trump to correct this?”

“This” is the yard where Johnson was standing on Dayton’s south side, before the coronavirus descended and made campaign rallies such as the one at her church the night before a thing of the past.

Johnson was gazing across the street at the house that was once her greatest achievement, and then her greatest nightmare. She was 28 when she bought the house for $105,000. {snip}

And then it all went wrong — her dogs dying, her parents ailing, her nights spent choking on noxious fumes from the toxic waste processed down the street in this majority-black neighborhood. {snip}

The only place she found solace was her church.

So when Paula White — a white televangelist whose sermons Johnson has long admired — came to her church one Friday in early March to say that Democrats have failed to fix the problems like joblessness and an unfair criminal justice system besetting black communities, and to urge Johnson to vote for President Trump this time around, Johnson listened. Even though she voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

“All of them say they care. I’m at the point, prove it. Come here. Prove it. You have to show me,” she said, with JESUS on her T-shirt and crosses glittering in her ears. “When I have a candidate that believes in God, that gets my attention. [Trump is] surrounded by Christian people like Paula White.”

Johnson is just the sort of voter that Trump’s campaign staff hope they can lure in November: evangelicals of color. The Republican National Committee and supportive groups on the religious right have invested millions of dollars in campaign efforts targeted specifically at nonwhite evangelicals.

The campaign’s hope is that people like Johnson represent a segment of black and Latino voters who may see Trump as an ally in their religious conservatism. This segment is narrow, but some pollsters say it could be enough to swing a few key states.

Black and Latino evangelicals have long been “politically homeless,” as the Rev. Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, puts it. They have conservative beliefs on social issues such as same-sex marriage, which they oppose at rates just slightly lower than white evangelicals, and to some extent abortion, which would put them in the Republican camp. But they also tend to favor more legalized immigration, government sensitivity toward racial justice, and help for the poor, generally pushing them toward Democratic candidates.

In 2020, the Trump campaign aims to make the case to these evangelicals of color that they should support the president’s reelection, hoping to peel away voters who might otherwise opt for the Democratic nominee or sit out the election.


The RNC hosted “Hispanic pastor roundtables” in New Mexico to teach clergy how to get their churches involved in the Trump campaign. In Florida, the campaign held an event specifically for Brazilian American evangelicals, and in several locations, the RNC trained “faith captains” at “Trump Victory Leadership Institute” events; these captains then train members of their churches to volunteer for Trump.

The RNC official said thousands of Latino pastors had already participated in various outreach events before March, when the virus interfered.

By early April, she said, those efforts had all gone online. In the first weeks of virtual campaigning, the RNC trained evangelical groups in Arizona, Iowa, Ohio, New Mexico and Wisconsin. Prominent pastors who support Trump hosted prayer calls for supporters in additional states, including Nevada and North Carolina.

Outside groups that typically organize white evangelicals are focused on evangelicals of color in this election, as well. Ralph Reed, a longtime Christian conservative activist, said his group Faith and Freedom Coalition plans to spend $1 million during the 2020 campaign on nonwhite evangelicals, mostly Latinos. That’s more than 10 times what the group spent in 2016.


{snip} The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), which asks people to self-identify as “born again” or “evangelical,” says there are 12 million black evangelical adults in the United States and almost 5 million Latino evangelical adults, compared with 36 million white evangelical adults.

Latinos are the fastest-growing segment of American evangelicalism. They’re also the least likely to be voters — PRRI found 37 percent are not registered, compared with 11 percent of white evangelicals and 15 percent of black evangelicals — so the Trump campaign views them as possible pickups in 2020. Evangelicals of each of the three races are more likely to be registered to vote than non-evangelicals of the same race.

When PRRI interviewed 9,447 evangelicals last year, they found stark differences between evangelicals based on race and ethnicity.

While 64 percent of white evangelicals told pollsters that they have a “mostly” or “very” favorable opinion of Trump, just 19 percent of black evangelicals viewed the president positively. Latino evangelicals were split: 40 percent had a positive opinion and 52 percent a negative one.

The Pew Research Center found in January an even larger gap: 86 percent of black evangelicals said they disapprove of Trump’s job performance, while 77 percent of white evangelicals said they approve. Among black evangelicals, 77 percent said they would probably or definitely vote for a Democratic candidate for president in November.


Janelle Wong, a political scientist at the University of Maryland who recently went to 60 evangelical churches as she researched a book on evangelicals and immigration, said Republicans have more consistently reached out to Latino evangelicals. On many issues, especially immigration but also the government’s responsibility to combat climate change and support the poor, nonwhite evangelicals “align better with Democrats,” she said. “This is the moment when Democrats should be building long-term relationships. But we’ve seen more effort among Republicans.”