According to follow-up research into Americans’ views of the presidency, regular church attenders have experienced a dramatic increase in their beliefs that Donald Trump was chosen by God to lead the nation. In a new report titled “Trump the Anointed?” professors Paul Djupe and Ryan Burge present data showing that the “religious significance” of the office is spreading both in general and specifically regarding the 45th president.
In a May 2019 survey, 30 percent of white Protestants who attend church at least once weekly said Trump was anointed by God. That number shot up to 50 percent in the latest survey, conducted in March 2020. Those findings, say Djupe and Burge, point to “further polarization along religious and partisan lines.”
Various Factors Are at Play
Saying the phenomenon “may go much deeper than talking heads on Fox News,” the researchers point to several possible explanations. Although previous research indicated belief in Trump’s anointing was particularly high among Pentecostals, new results show it’s “way up across the board, though none so dramatically as among the regular [church] attenders.”
Particularly for Republicans, attending a “political church” is key. As Burge notes, “The more their pastor talks about politics, [the] more likely they are to believe in anointing.” Personal political beliefs certainly are influential, the report acknowledges, but “a fair bit of congregational experiences are beyond the control of the individual.” Clergy speech about hot-button topics such as immigration, gun rights, impeachment, same-sex marriage, and abortion don’t appear to have similar effects on Democrats or Independents.
Much has been written about the tendency of conservative media to “insulate Trump supporters,” write Djupe and Burge, but they were “some of the first to document how this is built and sustained from the bottom up—that is, political churches, among Republicans especially, reinforce the argumentation that is also coming from above.”
Hearing pastors discuss “threats” such as losing religious liberties also appears to affect churchgoers’ beliefs about the anointing of the president and specifically of Trump. The researchers, who say they’ll post more about this topic soon, tell Fox News, “As threats become larger, both real and imagined, the religious significance of the presidency appears to be growing among a wide portion of the population.”
Chosen by God? Implications for the 2020 Election
Trump himself sparked talk of anointing last year by saying, “I am the chosen one” as he was negotiating trade with China. Later the president tweeted that he was joking and being sarcastic. Some supporters have encouraged talk of Trump’s anointing, including a televangelist who sold a coin depicting the 45th president as the biblical King Cyrus. Others say the claim is offensive and disturbing.
Responding to questions from Fox News, Djupe and Burge admit being “quite surprised” by the sudden spike in belief that Trump was anointed by God—“at least until we examined the evidence that suggested religious and secular elites continue to claim that Trump has a religiously significant role to play.” Their research was quoted today in a New York Times opinion piece by Thomas Edsall, who writes, “Capitalizing on that devotion is integral to Trump’s re-election strategy.”