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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a church service in Detroit on Sept. 3, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Americans, and white evangelical Christians in particular, have often distinguished themselves from their cynical Old World cousins by maintaining a high bar for the personal moral behavior of their elected officials.

They also tended to link such rectitude to the ability to carry out their public duties effectively.

But whether it is the ugly language and behavior often displayed by Republican candidate Donald Trump, or some other factor, U.S. voters—especially those same evangelicals—appear to have vanquished their inner Puritan and are now far more accepting of sinning politicians.

That’s the upshot of a survey released on Oct. 19 showing 61 percent of Americans now say that “immoral personal behavior does not preclude public officials from carrying out their public or professional duties with honesty and integrity.”

In 2011, only 44 percent of Americans said the same.

Yet what’s most notable in the survey by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution is that white evangelical Protestants have shifted their views more dramatically than any other group:

Today, the survey shows, 72 percent of white evangelicals say an elected official “can behave ethically even if they have committed transgressions in their personal life,” a 42-point jump from 2011, when only 30 percent agreed with that statement.

The data also show that those same conservative Christians, viewed as the core constituency for the Republican Party, continue to give strong backing to Mr. Trump, with nearly seven in 10 of them saying they will vote for the GOP nominee over his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

Mrs. Clinton herself has received low marks for honesty and trustworthiness from voters as she has had to answer ongoing questions about her use of a personal email account while she was secretary of state and the funding of the private charitable foundation she started with her husband.

She has also been dogged by questions about the propriety of earning huge speaking fees from various groups, among other things.

But the striking fact about the latest poll—which also gave Mrs. Clinton a huge 51-36 point advantage among likely voters ahead of tonight’s third and final debate—is the shift in views among the very Christian conservatives who are supporting Mr. Trump.

Many evangelical critics of Mr. Trump have said that there is no way Bible-believing Christians could support the GOP candidate, who has been married three times and bragged about his sexual exploits and penchant for groping women.

Those critics also say that accepting Mr. Trump’s character flaws undermines the very arguments used against Democrats such as former President Bill Clinton, who was blasted by Christian conservatives after revelations that he had an affair with a White House intern.

"This is what compromising your convictions for political expediency looks like in a chart," the Christian writer and Trump critic Rachel Held Evans tweeted in response to the new survey.

But in a split that could portend a long-lasting schism in the old religious right, other evangelicals are supporting Mr. Trump by arguing that Christians need a strong leader who can protect them from secularizing trends in America life.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
William Rydberg
7 years 7 months ago
I prefer Mr Senator Bernie Sanders. Don't think that either of the two discussed are paragons. But this is Politics...
ed gleason
7 years 7 months ago
It's easy to accept some rural, under-educated evangelicals ignoring Thump's character defects. We all saw the movie Elmer Gantry. But it's embarrassing to see cardinal Dolan of NYC going along with the Al Smith dinner with white-tie monkey suited donors to honor Trump and Clinton.{and raise money for good works] The "GUESTS of honor will speak with cheap jokes by out of work comedians. SNL is good because they know that their show is a farce. The Al Smith dinner is not supposed to be a silly farce. Trump will likely bring a few embarrassing guests, maybe a couple of SF's Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in drag costume .. PHEW.
John Walton
7 years 7 months ago
Haven't succeeded satisfactorily to afford a ticket or buy a table? That's your problem. Get a decent job and stop belly-aching. It's more embarrassing to denigrate the Cardinal, or the great Irish Catholic progressive Al Smith, or Evangelical Christians.
ed gleason
7 years 7 months ago
" Haven't succeeded satisfactorily to afford a ticket or buy a table? That's your problem" spoken like a Queens Trumpster, Call me Nov 9 collect call accepted. My mother and father worked on Al;s election Al Smith will turn in his grave out in LI Calvery Cemetery. I might go and watch the ground move. ,
Andrew Strada
7 years 7 months ago
As far as we know, Mr. Trump has never sent a soldier to a place where he was almost certain to be killed so that Mr. Trump could enjoy his wife. And yet, King David probably had support from many religious Jews. As for King Solomon's social life, don't even ask. So there may be Biblical precedent for supporting a strong leader even when he has trouble controlling his baser impulses.
John Walton
7 years 7 months ago
These are both deeply flawed candidates. Please pick up a stone and cast it at one, the other, or both. Even the Brooking's Institution admits that Hillary's economic plan will reduce economic growth. Maybe you guys who live on a stipend don't care, but lot of us in the hoi polis do.
JR Cosgrove
7 years 7 months ago
Maybe the headline should be:
Democrats have no morals so people are only upset when Republicans back someone who has made lewd comments
I am glad that Mr. Gibson has admitted the obvious. Namely, that those who support Democrats have no morality. No one expects them to be outraged and change their voting patterns based on the morality of their candidates. No one has said a peep about the Obama's embrace of Beyonce and other rappers. In fact both the Obamas and the Clintons have gone out of their way to praise the behavior.
President Obama has singled out Beyoncé for praise, and the singer is a big Hillary Clinton supporter, to not a word of protest from Clinton regarding her status as a role model for young girls. Bill Clinton met with Beyoncé and her husband, rapper Jay Z, in September. If Bill or Hillary thinks the lyrics of Jay Z’s “Big Pimpin‘” “horrific,” in Hillary’s words, they are not letting on:
http://bit.ly/2ekEHss But he does expect it of those who support Republicans. Especially when a private conversation is revealed. I assume that Mr. Gibson will now be all over the private conversations recently revealed about Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party for their hypocrisy. Or is it only Republican hypocrisy that he is interested in? And by the way I opposed Trump long before his conversation sponsored by NBC became public

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