When asked who they'd choose for president, the largest share of pastors had a surprising response

Posted October 12

Many pastors don't yet know who they'll be voting for when election day rolls around next month, according to a new poll from LifeWay Research.

In fact, when Protestant pastors were presented with current presidential options, the largest share — 40 percent — said they were still "undecided."

The poll, which was conducted from Aug. 22-Sept. 16, found an extra 32 percent who said they would vote for Republican candidate Donald Trump, with 19 percent selecting Democratic contender Hillary Clinton and 4 percent opting for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.

Interestingly, 3 percent of pastors said they didn't plan to vote at all, though 88 percent told LifeWay they believe Christians have a "biblical responsibility to vote."

That high percentage is notable, especially considering that four-in-10 Protestant pastors — and no doubt some of them are among the 88 percent who believe turning out to the polls is a biblical responsibility — had no idea whom they will choose on Nov. 8.

Right now, though, one thing is certain: Trump has an advantage among pastors.

"Donald Trump does better with pastors than Hillary Clinton," Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, said in a statement. "But both candidates are still less popular than 'undecided.'"

And while much ado is being made about Republicans' quest to overturn the Johnson Amendment — the Internal Revenue Service regulation barring churches and nonprofits from endorsing or campaigning against political candidates — there doesn't seem to be many pastors violating the contentious law.

An overwhelming 98 percent of pastors said they haven't endorsed a candidate during church services over the past year, though 22 percent said they have personally endorsed candidates outside of their church.

As Deseret News reported earlier this month, a previously released LifeWay Research poll found that 79 percent of Americans think it's inappropriate for pastors to endorse candidates from the pulpit, with just 19 percent seeing no issue with preachers doing so.

And 81 percent said churches shouldn't use resources to help candidates.

But while the majority reject these actions, only 42 percent of respondents said churches should lose their tax-exempt status if they do, indeed, violate the Johnson Amendment by endorsing candidates.

You can find out more about the Johnson Amendment's complicated history here.

The pastors surveyed in the most recent LifeWay survey had different ideas about what matters most in a presidential candidate, with 27 percent selecting personal character and 20 percent pointing toward a candidate's Supreme Court nominees.

Additionally, 12 percent said protection for religious freedom takes precedence, with 10 percent pointing to stance on abortion as a motivating factor, among other characteristics.

It should be noted that the LifeWay poll was conducted before the first presidential debate and the campaign's only vice-presidential face-off; it is unclear what impact those events had — if any — on pastoral views.

More broadly, The Pew Research Center found that evangelical voters had warmed to Trump by the time July rolled around, with 78 percent of white evangelical voters saying they'd choose the Republican nominee if the election were held at the time the poll was conducted.

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