Protestant pastors in the United States are becoming more vocal about political candidates, according to a LifeWay Research report published Oct. 27.
Nearly one-third (32%) of all respondents said they have “publicly endorsed candidates for public office this year outside of [their] church role.” This is up from 22% four years ago.
The vast majority (98%) have followed IRS guidelines for 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations by not endorsing candidates in their official capacity, such as from the pulpit or during an official church gathering.
“Pastors are more decided on who they are voting for in 2020, so it’s not surprising that more pastors have shared their opinions with others personally,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, in a press release accompanying the report. “The candidates endorsed by pastors may be local, state or national. But those who do so in an official church capacity are a rare exception.”
Laity had mixed feelings regarding such endorsements in any context or capacity, though a growing number approved of endorsements “from the pulpit.”
Lay respondents who “strongly” or “somewhat” agree that endorsements outside a minister’s official capacity are appropriate remained unchanged from 2015 at 43%, which is down from 54% in 2008.
However, the number of laity who “strongly” or “somewhat” agree that endorsements are appropriate by pastors during a church service (in their official capacity) has doubled over the past 12 years – moving from 12% in 2008 to 19% in 2015 to 24% in 2020.
A similar trend was seen in the laity’s views about a congregation endorsing candidates.
More than one quarter (29%) say they “strongly” or “somewhat” agree it is appropriate for churches to endorse candidates. This is up from 24% in 2015 and 22% in 2008.
Similarly, 24% say they “strongly” or “somewhat” agree it is “appropriate for churches to use their resources to campaign for candidates for public office.” This is a seven-point increase from 2015 and a 10-point increase from 2008.
Laity who believe churches should lose their tax-exempt status as a result of such endorsements waned from 2008 to 2015 before seeing a slight uptick this year.
In 2008, 52% of respondents “strongly” or “somewhat” agreed “churches who publicly endorse candidates for public office should lose their tax exemption.” This number dropped to 43% in 2015, and then increased to 45% in 2020.
LifeWay noted the 2008 and 2015 surveys were conducted by phone, while the 2020 surveys were completed online.
The full report on pastor responses, with a plus-or-minus 3.4% margin of error, is available here.
The full report on laity responses, with a plus-or-minus 3.2% margin of error, is available here.