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The New Evangelical Voter: Populist and Skeptical 

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Defining the evangelical voter has always been a challenge. And nowadays, it's become even more complicated. Former GOP nominee for president Mike Huckabee says evangelicals don't just fit into one box anymore. 

"I get so tired of hearing, particularly this line, 'Well, evangelicals are all...' and then fill in the blank," Huckabee tells CBN News. "Evangelicals are not all anything. Evangelicals are people with a lot of different views." 

Huckabee knows the playing field because when he first ran for president in 2008, his more populist tone resonated with evangelicals long before Donald Trump came along. "I was talking about working-class issues," Huckabee says. "At that time, it was a little bit too soon for the Republican Party to hear it." 

Fast-forward to 2024 when headlines began declaring ''Trump has Transformed Evangelicals" and Trump is "Connecting with a Different Type of Voter." It highlights the change. They result from the former president's appeal to those who might not attend church regularly and are seen as anti-establishment and anti-elitist. 

"I think it's fair that he's brought out a whole different segment of voters that have been really missing," says Chad Connelly, founder of Faith Wins. Asked whether evangelicals are part of that movement, he tells CBN News emphatically, "Absolutely it includes evangelicals."

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Big Political Shifts for Evangelicals

A growing distrust of the federal government has helped drive this change. In 2017, 31 percent of white evangelical Protestants expressed trust in the government. Today, the number has dropped more than half to 15 percent. 

Perhaps a more telling shift is the standard on the personal morality of a candidate. More than a decade ago, 30 percent of white evangelicals believed an elected official could commit personal immoral acts and still be ethical in their public life. That number has now skyrocketed to 72 percent. 

Then there's the contrast in education. Exit polls in this year's GOP primaries show that while Trump splits the college-educated evangelical vote, he wins more than two-thirds of those who didn't go to college. 

Populism and Politics in the Church

"We heard during the Obama years that the left wouldn't go visit in the areas in Pennsylvania that were coal mining areas, that were just blue collar, go-to-work, flag-waving, God-fearing but might have a beer on Friday afternoon kind of thing and go to church once a month," Connelly says. "I do think that Trump has brought those people out."

Many of those types of voters are likely former Democrats or independents who have added a new layer to the evangelical column. They're also seen as leaning toward Trump on issues like illegal immigration, economic uncertainty, and that lack of trust in the federal government. "What he says makes sense," Huckabee tells CBN News. "And it makes sense to the hard-working people of America."

Connelly's group, Faith Wins, is planning a "Common Sense America Tour' with stops at churches nationwide. Instead of the usual church conference focusing on areas such as life and marriage, this tour will be broader, touching on issues deeply affecting the body of Christ. 

"I have been in 11 states this year and not a single one hasn't been affected by the drug trafficking, the fentanyl," Connelly tells CBN News. "I've had churches who had deacons or members or tithers or people who are really involved in their church; Sunday School teachers who've lost kids to this thing, all poisoning stuff, or even people in their family and community and the churches are the backstop. So I just think this populist movement is because people are fed up with what's going on. And you don't have to be a Christian to see it." 

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