Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Analysis | Trump’s ‘Christian Visibility Day’ bit overstates his Christian support

Analysis | Trump’s ‘Christian Visibility Day’ bit overstates his Christian support

The Easter holiday, the most sacred on the Christian calendar, lands on a different date each year. This year it fell on March 31, a date already occupied by other annual observances: the birth of labor activist Cesar Chavez, National Crayon Day (promoted, naturally, by Crayola) and, since 2009, Trans Visibility Day.

President Biden’s team released statements on his behalf acknowledging three of those four occasions. (Sorry, Crayola.) Ever since, right-wing media — and particularly Fox News — has been up in arms at the idea that Biden would acknowledge Trans Visibility Day on Trans Visibility Day, given that it was also Easter.

The vast majority of it is wildly overheated and opportunistic. Some of it, like House Speaker Mike Johnson’s (R-La.) criticism, was rooted in misinformation. But it’s easy to see the political appeal: trans issues are a central component of right-wing rhetoric, as are appeals to religious conservatives. A plus B equals C.

Former president Donald Trump got in on the act during a rally Tuesday.

“What the [heck] was Biden thinking when he declared Easter Sunday to be Trans Visibility Day?” Trump said, suggesting that the declaration (again, not originated by Biden) showed “total disrespect to Christians.”

“On Nov. 5,” he added, referring to Election Day, “it is going to be called something else: It’s going to be called ‘Christian Visibility Day.’ ”

His supporters ate it up. But this, too, is overheated. Trump’s appeal to Christians is more limited than he suggests — centered on a very specific part of the Christian population.

Pew Research Center has conducted post-election polling after the 2016 and 2020 presidential contests in which respondents are validated as having voted. This offers a more robust picture of the electorate than other measures, including on religious identification.

We can see, for example, Trump won most of the Protestant vote in 2016 and 2020, and about half the Catholic vote in each year. His Democratic opponents — Biden in 2020 and Hillary Clinton in 2016 — won more of the vote from members of other religious traditions and religiously unaffiliated voters. (Each graph below is scaled to the percentage of the total vote each group constitutes.)

If we combine those categories, we see that Trump got about 55 percent of the Christian vote in each of the past two presidential elections. He got only about a quarter of the vote from everyone else.

In 2020, a bit over a third of the electorate — 37 percent or so — were Christians who voted for Trump. Twenty-nine percent were Christians who voted for Biden or a third-party candidate.

Assuming those numbers are similar in 2024 (as they were in 2016 and 2020), Election Day can hardly be described as one on which Christians broadly demonstrate their support for Trump’s policies and values. An awful lot of Christians — like Black Protestants, who in 2020 backed Biden by an 82-point margin — will not be enthusiastic about the Christians whose views are being made visible.

But of course, Trump isn’t talking about Black Christians. His support in 2020, PRRI found, was highly correlated to the number of White Christians in a county — and more so to White evangelical Protestants.

His rhetoric often focuses on elevating Christians in the national conversation, as it did in 2016. He means Christian conservatives, a group that has voted for him loyally in each of his previous presidential runs.

Of course, this rhetoric is also rooted in the idea that Christians don’t already have a powerful, audible voice, which they do. Trans Visibility Day exists because trans people lack that voice; it’s an effort started by a trans woman to demonstrate to other trans individuals that they are not isolated and alone, as many are likely to feel. The trans community, after all, is still alienated and derided in much of the country.

Christian conservatives, on the other hand, are not. They may feel alienated, both because the voices of the growing non-Christian population are heard more often and because folks like Trump and Fox News hosts try to amplify a sense of aggrievement. They often appear to feel disadvantaged or threatened because the interests and values of non-Christians and nonconservatives simply exist. But, in part as a response to that perceived threat, Christian conservatives still have enormous institutional and cultural power that trans people very much do not.

This is Trump’s shtick, though: You — we — are embattled. We Christians (a mantle Trump adopted in earnest once he entered national politics); we Whites. Aggrievement is the essence of MAGAism.

On Election Day, Trump will probably win more votes from Christians than Biden does, as he did four years ago. But that won’t make it “Christian Visibility Day,” in part since he can’t reasonably claim the support of Christians broadly.

Also in part because, in any practical sense, every day in America is one on which the Christian community is quite visible.

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