Protestant pastors are nearly unanimous in their decision not to endorse a political candidate from the pulpit this year, although roughly one-third say they have endorsed a political candidate outside of the church setting, according to a new LifeWay Research survey.
The poll found that 98 percent of Protestant pastors have not endorsed a candidate from the pulpit this year, although 32 percent say they have endorsed a candidate “outside of their church role.” The latter figure is an increase from 2016, when 22 percent of pastors said they had endorsed a candidate outside of their church role.
Two-thirds (65 percent) of pastors this year have not endorsed a candidate outside of their church role, a decrease from 2016 when more than three-fourths (77 percent) answered that way.
“Pastors are more decided on who they are voting for in 2020, so it’s not surprising that more pastors have shared their opinions with others personally,” said Scott McConnell executive director of LifeWay Research. “The candidates endorsed by pastors may be local, state or national. But those who do so in an official church capacity are a rare exception.”
Americans are divided on if pastors should endorse candidates. Although 43 percent of U.S. adults believe it is “appropriate for pastors to personally endorse candidates outside of their church role,” 39 percent say it’s not and 19 percent are unsure.
Meanwhile, about one-fourth (24 percent) of Americans say it is appropriate for pastors to endorse candidates from the pulpit, while 61 percent say it’s inappropriate and 15 percent aren't sure. (Nearly half – 47 percent – disagreed strongly with the concept of pulpit endorsements.)
On a similarly worded question, 29 percent of U.S. adults say it’s appropriate for churches to endorse candidates, compared to 57 percent who say it’s not appropriate and 15 percent who are not sure.
“Americans prefer for churches to remain religious sanctuaries rather than political rallies,” McConnell said. “While church support for politicians is seen as improper by most, Americans are less supportive of legal ramifications for such acts.”
A plurality of Americans (45 percent) say churches that endorse candidates publicly should lose their tax-exempt status. One-third (32 percent) disagree, and 23 percent aren’t sure.
The survey of pastors involved interviews with 1,007 Protestant pastors from Sep. 2–Oct. 1. The poll of Americans was conducted Sept. 9-23 among 1,200 U.S. adults.
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.