Despite Media Coverage Many Attentive Conservative Voters Not Sure What the Candidates Believe

The media has obsessed with Donald Trump so much that he has been able to limit his paid advertising expenditures. Similarly, Hillary Clinton has had such glowing and strategic media coverage that some pundits have called them her campaign communications team. Despite the billions of dollars worth of media attention the two major party candidates have received during this election cycle, some of the people who have paid the most attention to the campaign remain unaware of what the candidates believe on core issues.

A new national survey among Christian conservatives by the American Culture and Faith Institute (ACFI) reveals that there is more ignorance about the positions of Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton than there is disagreement about their stands.

Attentive and Cohesive
The latest survey of SAGE Cons – the Spiritually Active, Governance Engaged conservatives tracked by ACFI – indicates that the segment remains highly attuned to campaign news, with more than eight out of ten saying they have paid a lot or quite a bit of attention to campaign coverage thus far.

The survey of 1,800 respondents also discovered that support for Donald Trump has remained solid among the Christian conservatives. Overall, 83% planned to vote for the GOP representative, only 2% were vying for Mrs. Clinton, and just 7% were backing any of the third-party and independent candidates. That left 7% undecided, 3% who will vote but not for a presidential candidate, and 1% who were planning to protest by not voting at all.

The Trump Effect
Since winning the Republican nomination, opinions of SAGE Cons continue to improve for the brash New Yorker. Four out of ten (39%) said their trust level for him has risen since capturing the party’s nod, half say their trust in him has remained unchanged, and one out of eight (12%) have lost some degree of trust in him. Republican SAGE Cons were more likely than Independents to indicate increased trust (41% versus 31%, respectively). Conservative Christian women, who have generally been more reluctant than men to support Mr. Trump, reflected slightly greater growth in trust of Mr. Trump (42% compared to 36% of SAGE Con men). The older a Christian conservative was, the more likely they were to indicate increased trust in the real estate tycoon: 46% of SAGE Cons 65 or older said their trust in him had risen, compared to increases among 35% of the 50-64-year olds, and 24% of those under 50.

One of the chief challenges to a presidential candidate is to provide electoral “coattails” for other candidates on the ballot to hang on to for a lift in support. From the vantage point of Christian conservatives, those coattails are rather short, if they exist at all. Not quite one-third of the SAGE Cons interviewed (31%) said they believe Mr. Trump’s presence at the top of the ticket will help other GOP candidates; 21% felt his presence would hurt; and the other half (49%) felt it would not make any difference one way or the other.

Direct Comparisons Help Trump
When Christian conservative voters were asked to react to statements about the stands taken by the candidates, the results showed that SAGE Cons are usually united in their perspectives or they suffer from a lack of information, but there is little disagreement among them as to what Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton stand for.

In eight cases where a direct comparison of the two candidates was provided, nine out of ten (or more) SAGE Cons held the same opinion in four instances and demonstrated a substantial lack of knowledge in the other four. However, in none of the eight cases did even as few as 5% the SAGE Cons disagree with the majority opinion.

Overall, 97% believe that Mr. Trump will choose conservative judges for the Supreme Court and that Mrs. Clinton will select liberal jurists. The same proportion said that the Republican supports a temporary ban on Muslim refugees until the vetting system is improved, and that Mrs. Clinton wants to raise the quota for Muslim refugees without such systemic changes. Ninety percent believe that Mr. Trump will nominate judges who seek to adhere to a traditional interpretation of the Constitution while Mrs. Clinton will seek judges with a more activist bent. Similarly, nine out of ten believe that Mr. Trump intends to protect religious freedoms while Mrs. Clinton will restrict such liberties in pursuit of her agenda.

There were four other topics, however, on which SAGE Con opinions were somewhat uncertain; for those matters anywhere between 15% to 23% said they did not know enough about the candidate stands on those issues to have a firm opinion. Those topics related to the candidates’ positions on school choice, the future of sanctuary cities, support for Israel, and intentions related to military budgets and technology upgrades. It is worth noting that among the Christian conservatives who did have a substantive opinion on those topics, all but 3% or fewer had a similar perspective. Specifically, three-quarters (74%) believe Donald Trump supports school choice but Mrs. Clinton does not; more than three out of four (78%) believe Mr. Trump is opposed to sanctuary cities while Mrs. Clinton wants to retain them; nearly four out of five (78%) say Mr. Trump strongly supports Israel but Mrs. Clinton has a record of criticizing, snubbing, and marginalizing Israel; and more than four out of five (82%) contend that Mr. Trump would increase the budget and improve technology for the military while Mrs. Clinton would do the opposite.

Specific Stands of Trump
The research found that more than four out of five SAGE Cons believe that Mr. Trump plans to reduce government spending and tax rates (87%) and to eliminate the estate tax while lowering tax rates for individuals and businesses (83%). However, there was lots of indecision regarding his stand on revoking the Johnson Amendment. One-third of Christian conservatives (33%) confessed a lack of knowledge about the Trump position on the centerpiece of his plans for defending religious freedom.

Specific Stands of Clinton
Reflecting their determination to vote against Mrs. Clinton rather than to enthusiastically vote for Mr. Trump, Christian conservatives had greater certainty about the positions of Hillary Clinton than those of Donald Trump. For instance, 94% believe that she intends to nominate only pro-abortion justices for the Supreme Court, and to pursue an amendment to make abortion a constitutional right. Just as many (92%) believe that she plans to increase government spending on programs and to pay for such expansion by imposing new taxes and raising existing tax rates. Slightly less than nine out of ten (87%) contend that she wants to provide illegal immigrants living in the U.S. with amnesty, and to provide them with a fast path to citizenship, full benefits, and unrestricted employment status.

Shoring Up the Base
George Barna, who directed the research for the American Culture and Faith Institute, noted that several important voter segments stood out as lacking information about the position of the candidate they were currently supporting (Mr. Trump).

“The most obvious pattern was that the younger the voter was, the less informed they were about where the candidates stand on these issues,” Barna commented. “Generally, people 65 or older were well-informed on the issues surveyed while people under 35 were much more likely to need additional information. There was also some indication that Independents were more likely than Republicans to struggle with the facts on many of these issues.”

While Barna stated that there were no real differences in the lack of information according to respondent gender, income, or region, there was a noteworthy denominational gap. “Among religious conservatives, Protestant voters were noticeably more likely than Catholic voters to be well-informed regarding issues related to faith. Specifically, Catholics were comparatively in the dark on matters regarding Israel and in regard to Mr. Trump’s plans for the Johnson Amendment.”

About the Research
The research described in this report is part of the RightView™ longitudinal survey, a national study undertaken among spiritually active, governance engaged conservatives who are registered voters – a segment known as SAGE Cons. The survey undertaken for this report had a sample size of 1,800 qualified adults and was conducted online by the American Culture & Faith Institute during late August of 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.