The “October surprise” unleashed last Friday – a taped conversation from 11 years ago in which Donald Trump described his inappropriate sexual activity and indefensible attitudes toward women – has had some devastating effects on the Trump candidacy. New polling data from the American Culture & Faith Institute (ACFI), which tracks Christian conservatives, also examined the impact of the Trump revelations on Senate races in battleground states.
Trump Support Plummets
A comparison of Donald Trump’s support among politically involved Christian conservatives before the release of the “sex-talk tape” and after it became public last Friday shows that the tape has put a significant dent in the Republican’s standing. Prior to the tape’s release Mr. Trump was generating support from 86% of SAGE Cons (i.e., the Spiritually Active Governance Engaged Conservatives tracked by ACFI). That represented his high-water mark for the campaign and moved him closer to the 91% that Mitt Romney received from that group in the 2012 election.
In the first four days after the tape became a media sensation, however, Mr. Trump’s support among SAGE Cons plummeted to just 75%. That 11-point drop came at a time when he was already trailing Mrs. Clinton in national polls by roughly three points. Mr. Trump’s standing nationally after the sex-talk tape release saw Mrs. Clinton’s lead double, to an estimated six or seven points. But that shift also means that SAGE Cons were jumping the Trump ship at a much faster rate than were other Trump supporters.
Not surprisingly, most of the drop in support – both among SAGE Cons and other voters – has been among women.
The ACFI research also showed that the depth of commitment to Mr. Trump among his supporters also took a hit. During the four-day period subsequent to the release of the tape those who were “totally committed” to supporting him dropped from 77% to 70%.
Despite the decline in Trump support, Mrs. Clinton was not the recipient of new support from SAGE Cons. Most of those who abandoned Mr. Trump said they would vote on November 8, but not for a presidential candidate. Less than one-quarter of the reshuffled SAGE Cons said they would switch their vote to a third-party or independent candidate. Less than one out of ten said they would refuse to vote.
Senate Candidates Unharmed
Another potential impact of the sex-talk tape going public was damage that could be done to “down ticket” candidates – that is, to those candidates on the ballot who are seeking other offices, such as Senate and Congressional seats.
Looking at survey results in four battleground states – Arizona, Iowa, North Carolina, and Wisconsin – the ACFI data indicates that SAGE Cons are not changing their plans regarding the Senate races in those states. Overall, after the release of the tape 91% of Christian conservatives planned to vote for the Republican candidate in those states – the same proportion as was found prior to the release of the tape.
The ACFI research also revealed that the depth of support for the Republican Senate candidates had actually improved after the tape reached the media. Prior to the tape release 70% of SAGE Cons were “totally committed” to the more conservative candidate in each of those races; after the tape emergence total commitment rose to 75%.
Finding a Logical Response
This latest event in the unpredictable 2016 campaign has placed SAGE Cons in a difficult and uncomfortable position, according to George Barna, Executive Director of ACFI.
“Mr. Trump was never close to being the top choice of SAGE Cons in the early stages of the election. It was not until after he won the nomination that SAGE Cons assessed their options and determined that he was preferable to Mrs. Clinton, given their values and philosophy of governance. But with each subsequent flare up by Mr. Trump it has become harder for them to stand by him. Obviously, many SAGE Cons, especially women, considered the revelations on the tape to be the last straw.”
Barna offered another observation related to this latest incident. “A significant share of his support among Christian conservatives has evaporated, but we anticipate that some of that support will return. Throughout the campaign the pattern has been that Mr. Trump would increase his base, but then a negative incident would occur, causing his support to drop. Over the next week or two, though, voters would re-weigh their options and most of the recently departed support would return. Keep in mind that the campaign has been littered with regular revelations about alleged wrong-doing by Mrs. Clinton, as well, which has facilitated the restoration of the Trump base.
“But a second important realization,” Barna explained, “is that people’s enthusiasm about voting continues to decline. That has combined with low candidate favorability and trust levels to shift the original, high intent-to-vote levels to an estimated turnout that may wind up lower than we had in 2012, and substantially below the 2008 level. However, there is also some evidence suggesting that many Christian conservatives are now even more committed to supporting the conservative Senate candidate in their state as a kind of insurance policy against whatever might transpire in the presidential race.”
The veteran researcher also responded to questions about the threat of additional secrets being revealed about the candidates.
“Given historical patterns, we can expect more ‘dirty tactics’ to be on display during the remaining four weeks of the campaign. Voters are already emotionally exhausted and morally disgusted by what has taken place during the last year of campaigning by more than two dozen candidates,” Barna concluded. “Increasingly we are finding that people just want the election to be over with. If there was ever a sense of optimism that our next president would bring healing and hope to the nation, that dream has largely vanished as a result of the nature of the campaign. People’s frustration with the political process and disappointment in our political actors is reaching new heights. For SAGE Cons, this election has reinforced their belief that we can never put our full faith or trust in political officials or the government, but only in Jesus Christ.”
About the Research
The research described in this report is part of the RightView™ longitudinal survey among spiritually active, governance engaged conservatives who are registered voters – a segment known as SAGE Cons. The survey undertaken for this report had sample size of 1,000 qualified adults and was conducted online by the American Culture & Faith Institute from October 4 through 10, 2016.
In RightView™ studies SAGE Cons are identified as adults who are registered voters; conservative on political matters; have accepted Jesus Christ as their savior; are active in pursuing their Christian faith; and are actively engaged in politics and government. They represent about 12% of the national adult population, which constitutes a segment of approximately 30 million individuals.
The American Culture & Faith Institute is a division of United in Purpose, a non-partisan, non-profit organization. The mission of United in Purpose is to educate, motivate and activate conservative Christians related to the political process. The organization does not support or promote individual candidates or political parties.
Additional information about this and related research is accessible on the American Culture & Faith Institute website, located at www.culturefaith.com.