On Politics, Evangelicals Trust Oprah and Obama More than Joel Osteen, Jerry Falwell, Jr.
According to a new poll, a political endorsement from Oprah Winfrey would carry more weight among American evangelicals than the backing of preacher Joel Osteen or Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr. Osteen and Falwell were the only two religious leaders to make the list of the top ten positive influencers — notably edging out Billy Graham's son and evangelistic successor Franklin Graham.
Nearly a third of evangelicals (31 percent) said Winfrey's endorsement would make them more likely to support a political candidate, while only about a quarter said so about Osteen (28 percent) or Falwell (27 percent). Former president Barack Obama enjoyed even more clout than Winfrey, with 33 percent of evangelicals saying they would value his endorsement.
Self-identified white evangelicals are often associated with President Donald Trump, and indeed about 81 percent voted for the Republican in 2016. Trump's endorsement did indeed carry the most clout of any figure, but just under half of evangelicals (49 percent) said they would be more likely to support a candidate if that person had Trump's endorsement.
The Morning Consult survey of 1,995 registered voters, conducted early this month, reported on the relative value of political endorsements from a variety of public figures. Christianity Today broke down the numbers for self-described evangelicals.
Politicians formed most of the top ten influencers among evangelicals. Behind Trump (49 percent) came Vice President Mike Pence (46 percent), former president George W. Bush (43 percent), House Speaker Paul Ryan (34 percent), Obama (33 percent), former first lady Michelle Obama (32 percent), Winfrey (31 percent), Osteen (28 percent), Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (28 percent), and Falwell (27 percent).
Winfrey's name on this list proves particularly interesting, as it comes shortly after speculation she might consider a presidential run against Trump in the 2020 election. Winfrey said she would not run without a sign from God. A Maine woman named "Jesus Christ" recently sent her a letter...
While Falwell took a great deal of flak for endorsing Trump early in the 2016 primary (and became infamous for posing right in front of a copy of Playboy magazine with Trump), he still reached the top ten influencers, perhaps because Trump won.
If some public figures endorsed a political candidate, that would make evangelicals less likely to vote for that candidate. Perhaps unsurprisingly, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton topped that list, with 54 percent of evangelicals saying her endorsement would negatively impact their support for any candidate.
Behind Clinton came reality television star Kim Kardashian (51 percent), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (50 percent), former president Bill Clinton (50 percent), pop singer Kanye West (49 percent), Barack Obama (49 percent), his wife (48 percent), Beyoncé (42 percent), LGBT activist and actress Ellen Degeneres (41 percent), and Sanders (41 percent).
These numbers suggest that one of the major reasons evangelicals broke for Trump so decisively was their fear and dislike of Clinton. This stands to reason, as Clinton represented an insidious threat to traditional Christianity.
Among Democrats, endorsements from Trump (52 percent), Pence (47 percent), and the Republican Party (47 percent) proved most damaging, far more than the National Rifle Association (37 percent) and disgraced former White House staffer Steve Bannon (35 percent).
Republicans similarly distrusted Hillary Clinton (62 percent) and Pelosi (57 percent). Even independents showed a firm dislike for Pelosi (29 percent), more than for Trump (25 percent) or Clinton (24 percent).
Kim Kardashian's political endorsement would prove the most toxic of all. Republicans (47 percent), Democrats (33 percent), and independents (47 percent) all ranked her in the top ten celebrities whose political backing would make them actually oppose almost any candidate.
Only "your spouse" made the top ten most impactful positive endorsers among Republicans (41 percent), Democrats (39 percent), and independents (22 percent).
While Winfrey and Obama beat the only two pastors on the list of the top ten evangelical influencers, the Obamas proved rather polarizing. As for Winfrey, she is not yet a political candidate. As soon as she became one, dynamics would change — and it is not likely evangelicals will abandon Trump in 2020, after he nominated Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
Then again, many religious conservatives gritted their teeth in voting for Trump. Without Hillary Clinton on the ballot, their loyalty might be tested.