Media outlets far and wide made much of the fact that the Amish held a parade, complete with horses and buggies, to show their support for President Trump in a small Ohio town over the weekend.
The parade did happen, but most of the reports on the event were, shall we say, overblown. That said, the idea that the Amish, who traditionally eschew voting for national political candidates, could turn out for Trump on Election Day is worth exploring.
First the parade details: There was indeed a parade held in the tiny town of Fredericksburg, Ohio (pop. 423), over the weekend, and plenty of people turned out to watch—hundreds, in fact, according to Wayne County GOP Chairman Doug Deeken, who was in attendance.
— Woj Pawelczyk (@Woj_Pawelczyk) September 19, 2020
And there were a couple of Amish-style buggies in the parade, one of which was driven by two men who looked like they could be Amish, along with a collection of various horses, wagons, and steers. Deeken told PJ Media that reports claiming the Amish community “staged” the event or that they were involved in its organization were exaggerated. (It was organized by the Bikers for Trump group led by Chris Cox, according to local reports.)
That being said, it remains an open question whether the Amish will turn out for Trump in November. While there is some diversity amongst the Amish when it comes to voting—and policies can vary depending on the views of the local bishops—generally, they only vote for issues, such as tax levies and zoning questions, or for local candidates (read more here), when they vote at all. This is especially true in primary elections, where partisan affiliations (in Ohio and other states) are a matter of public record. Having one’s name on a list of registered Democrats or Republicans would not go over well with many of the bishops or with their neighbors. General elections are an entirely different animal, however.
Deeken, who is a savvy political analyst as well as a personal friend, said that in 2016 Amish folks would drop by the GOP headquarters to ask if their vote in the general election would be private, suggesting they wanted to vote for Trump but were fearful they’d be outed.
“I do think that the Amish voted for Trump (in Ohio) but I think they’re shy about it,” he said. “I think they didn’t do it with the bishops’ blessing and I don’t think they did it for Donald Trump—they did it for Mike Pence,” whose values on many issues align closely with their own.
Ohio and Pennsylvania boast a combined Amish population of 159,000, which, with a significant turnout, could arguably be enough to tip a close election in one or both of these battleground states. Following in the footsteps of his father, President George W. Bush went after the Amish vote in Ohio and Pennsylvania in 2004, making campaign stops in Amish strongholds and chatting up the locals. He beat John Kerry by 118,000 votes in the Buckeye State but lost by 1.4 million in Pennsylvania that year.
An in-depth analysis of the “Bush fever” in these conservative communities—which were at the time very concerned about Kerry’s commitment to abortion rights and gay marriage—found increased voter registration amongst the Amish in Ohio and Pennsylvania, but the votes in the 2004 election were likely measured in hundreds rather than thousands. Still, Bush beat Al Gore in Florida in 2000 by a mere 537 votes, so outreach to Amish communities isn’t necessarily a waste of time.
Trump has also reached out to the Amish and made history as the first president to meet with the sect’s leaders at the White House. (The president won Pennsylvania by 44,000 votes in 2016 and Ohio by nearly half a million.) A group called Amish PAC has raised (and spent) more than $100,000 on outreach to the Amish this cycle. Ben Walters, who leads the group, told the Washington Post that he thinks the tide is turning: “Since 2016, every single year, it gets a little bit easier. We’re seeing more and more signs of progress. I think behaviors are finally changing.”
Deeken noted that Hillary Clinton underperformed in his county in 2016 compared to Barack Obama in 2012. “If you look at the difference in the southern part of Wayne County in 2016 there are an extra thousand votes,” he said, suggesting that the Amish community in that part of the county may have turned out to support Trump—or oppose Clinton. “I think that the president will do at least as well with the Amish as he did in 2016,” he opined, and they “will vote for Trump in greater numbers than they did for McCain and Romney.”
To be sure, Trump’s values don’t align with those of the Amish community the way Bush’s did, nor does he possess Bush’s homespun country-boy style they identified with, but the president’s support for religious liberty and policies that have curtailed abortion rights—not to mention his avowed abstention from alcohol—may outweigh such disparities. Trump’s desire to disentangle us from foreign wars may also appeal to the pacifist sect.
“I don’t anticipate the bishops taking a position, but if they do, it will be because of some outreach from, say, Mike Pence,” Deeken explained. While “there could be a proclamation of support from some segments” of the Amish community, it’s not likely there will be widespread open support for Trump.
The Amish have a lot to lose if the increasingly radical Joe Biden prevails in November—religious liberty, gun rights, family autonomy, and school choice could all be on the chopping block. Whether that will motivate them to go to the polls and pull the lever for Trump is an open question—one that campaign operatives are likely mulling behind closed doors—the answer to which could tip the scales one way or another in November.
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