One of the dominant media narratives about religion in the 2016 presidential campaign remains that Republican frontrunner Donald Trump wins among self-identified evangelicals.
However, an analysis of the voting data actually demonstrates the business mogul is merely tied with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz within the critical Republican voting bloc.
Of the 32 states where voters have already cast their preferences for Republican presidential candidates, 21 states include exit polling data.
The only religion question asked in every state is whether or not Republican voters are evangelicals.
In 14 states, evangelicals made up between 50 percent and 84 percent of the turnout.
Only three states – New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont – saw evangelicals account for less than 40 percent of the vote. Trump won in those states but it did not help him much with overall evangelical vote.
Trump won evangelical voters in 12 states, Cruz won them in eight, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich won them in his home state. However, when looking at raw votes, the margin for Trump disappears to a statistical tie with Cruz.
Extrapolating the exit polling percentages to the total raw votes shows that evangelicals accounted for 58.7 percent of the vote in those 21 states for a total of nearly 10.8 million evangelical voters.
This voting estimate puts both Trump and Cruz at about 3.8 million votes, with Trump up by less than 36,000 votes.
While Trump took 35.36 percent of evangelicals, Cruz landed 35.03 percent. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who dropped out last month, remains a distant third among evangelicals with 16.38 percent. Kasich claims 9.93 percent, and all other candidates combine for 6.44 percent.
Because the raw evangelical vote is an approximation from the exit polling percentages, the margin of error leaves Trump and Cruz statistically tied among evangelicals.
Additionally, some estimates on overall evangelical support from the states without exit polls can be made based on the election results.
Cruz likely topped Trump among evangelicals in seven states, and Trump likely bested Cruz in just one. Three states were too close to guess who won evangelicals.
Based on the statistical tie in the 21 states with exit polls and the Cruz advantage in the 11 states without, it is inaccurate to claim that Trump is winning the evangelical vote.
Additionally, EthicsDaily.com analyses already showed Trump performs poorly among self-identified evangelicals who actually attend church frequently and performs poorly among evangelicals in the Midwest.
A map of evangelical wins paints a picture far different from the narrative of Trump winning.
While Trump racked up several big wins among evangelicals in the “Deep South,” he lost in the two states with the largest raw total of evangelical voters – Texas and Ohio.
In three states, evangelicals chose a candidate who did not win the overall vote in the state. Trump won Arkansas, Missouri and North Carolina, but evangelicals in those three states backed Cruz.
Moreover, in each state where Trump won among evangelicals in the exit polls, he only captured a plurality – not a majority – of evangelical voters. Thus, most evangelicals have voted for someone else.
Only Cruz topped 50 percent among evangelicals in any state, which he accomplished in Texas, Missouri and Wisconsin.
Tobin Grant, political science professor at Southern Illinois University, adds another angle in a recent look at polling data about evangelicals, racism and Trump.
He found that “Trump’s strongest support among racist evangelicals who aren’t active in church, and Trump’s least support among evangelicals who attend church regularly and do not hold racist stereotypes.”
“Evangelicals like Trump based on politics, not religion,” Grant concludes. “But among evangelicals Trump reveals divisions rooted in racism and religious commitment.”
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.