According to a new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute/The Atlantic, most white evangelicals now believe that a politician can be immoral in private and ethical in public. That’s a significant shift from 2011, when less than a third agreed with the same position:
It’s tempting to pin this uptick solely to Donald Trump, but that doesn’t quite capture the full picture. White evangelicals are suffering from a scarcity of options: They can support a distinctly impious Republican, or a Democrat they’ve framed as America’s Jezebel for decades. This even applies to evangelical members of the Christian left, who don’t oppose a woman in power but may disagree with Clinton’s hawkish foreign policy or her historically conservative approach to poverty reduction. Many values voters feel they’ll compromise their morals no matter what they do on November 8.
These results also illustrate the central irony of the religious right. Politicizing Christianity also secularized it; no one, not even ardent churchgoers, can build a political machine without making compromises. Purists do not typically survive long in politics.
But there is one fascinating exception to PRRI’s trend: Religiously-unaffiliated Americans have actually become less tolerant of politicians they deem immoral. Who’s the moral majority now?