Biden eyes inroads with evangelical voters
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is seeking to make inroads with evangelical voters, a demographic that overwhelmingly sided with President Trump during the 2016 election.
Team Biden doesn’t think it can win over all evangelicals or even a majority, but it does think it can slice off some of them from Trump’s coalition by emphasizing the former vice president’s personal faith and values.
At the Democratic National Convention, Biden’s campaign will hold an interfaith service on Aug. 16, and a Believers for Biden watch party ahead of the candidate’s acceptance speech is set for Aug. 20, according to a Biden adviser.
The Democratic National Committee will also host two interfaith council meetings during the week.
The campaign’s Believers for Biden program also plans to host listening sessions with faith leaders, form advisory groups with people from different traditions, and hold town halls and policy roundtables to gain support from faith-based voters.
Polls suggest that Trump has lost some support from the evangelical community even though he maintains a large lead. Pew Research Center polling in April found Trump with a 78 percent approval rating with white evangelicals. It dipped to 72 percent in June.
Katelyn Beaty, the former managing editor at Christianity Today, said the Biden campaign can “realistically hope” to gain about 3 to 4 percentage points from the white evangelical demographic. In 2016, Trump earned 81 percent of the white evangelical vote.
Josh Dickson, the Biden campaign’s national faith engagement director, said the campaign’s strategy revolves around listening to voters first and then making the case that Biden’s agenda is “much more aligned with their common good values than what we’re seeing from the current administration.”
“Our argument is that Joe Biden’s vision for America very much resonates with these values of loving your neighbor, of caring for the poor and vulnerable, of fighting systems of oppression, of sweeping down walls of injustice,” he said.
Dickson also cited Biden’s openness about his own Catholic faith, which can “resonate” with religious voters.
“I think he has a level of trust with people because he’s authentic about that,” he said.
Others see an opportunity for Biden to contrast his character with Trump’s in a way that could appeal to white evangelicals.
Joshua DuBois, who led the Obama White House’s religious outreach office, said it’s “critical” for the campaign to “continue to draw the moral contrast” between Biden and Trump.
Many religious progressives are “already very upset by the Trump administration,” he said, but millions of more moderate and conservative voters “just feel deeply unsettled” about the president.
“I think if Vice President Biden can speak to his own deep and strong faith and the role that he sees people of faith having in strengthening and uniting our country, he’ll give some of those voters an alternative to support,” DuBois said.
The majority of white evangelical voters are expected to remain loyal to Trump, who has won over many of them with his efforts to appoint a roster of conservative judges to the federal bench. At the end of June, the Senate confirmed the president’s 200th overall judicial appointee, after he had filled 30 percent of the courts of appeals.
Evangelical leaders and worshippers who initially might have had reservations about Trump have rallied around him throughout his presidency, praising him as God’s chosen leader to fulfill the conservative and religious mission. And while some conservative evangelicals may be turned off by his personal rhetoric, several of them look past it for the ultimate goal of pushing conservative policies on issues such as abortion and religious liberty.
Trump has embraced this role and ended up becoming the first sitting president to address the annual March for Life rally this year, where he said, “Unborn children have never had a stronger defender in the White House.”
Samantha Zager, a Trump campaign spokeswoman, said in a statement that “Americans of faith know President Trump will continue to protect their fundamental rights.”
“The Biden-Harris ticket is a promise for taxpayer-funded abortions, anti-Catholic bigotry, and attacks on the religious liberties all Americans are guaranteed by the Constitution,” she said.
Ralph Reed, the chairman and founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said the Biden campaign’s goals to win over a portion of evangelical voters are “not realistic at all,” particularly because of Biden’s views on abortion and religious freedom.
Reed, who serves on the advisory board of Evangelicals for Trump, said he expects the president to earn a higher percentage of the evangelical vote this year than in 2016, now that Trump has shown his support for evangelical causes.
“Four years later, he has a record, and he has demonstrated that when he made a promise, not only to people of faith, but to the American people, he kept it,” Reed said.