rural voters

In real-life Mayberry, what makes Trump supporters tick: Religion? Race? Economics?

In real-life Mayberry, what makes Trump supporters tick: Religion? Race? Economics?

This is more like it.

In a GetReligion post last month, I offered praise for a thought-provoking Washington Post story on overlooked rural evangelicals.

But I voiced concern over the piece's lack of actual voices from rural America.

My recommendation in that original post:

Piggybacking off Godbeat veteran Bob Smietana's suggestion that "this is the big religion story for 2017," here's what I'd like to see going forward. Both from the Post and other major media, it seems to me that there's a big need to send a reporter — I nominate Sarah Pulliam Bailey — to some actual rural churches to interview real evangelicals who voted for Trump.

"Ask and it will be given to you ..."

Today, the lead story on the Washington Post website is a news-feature by — guess who? — Sarah Pulliam Bailey out of Mount Airy, N.C. (Don't resort to facts and try to tell me this piece was in the works before my earlier post. I'm intent on taking credit.)

Yes, the headline is clickbait at its best (or worst, if you will):

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Washington Post wrote about overlooked rural evangelicals; now it needs to talk to them

Washington Post wrote about overlooked rural evangelicals; now it needs to talk to them

Papa Ross was my dad's dad.

He had white hair, wore overalls and loved fishing and hunting. He worked most of his life as a farmer and carpenter. He was a faithful Christian who caused a stir in the 1970s when he and Grandma brought busloads of black children to their small white church in southeastern Missouri's Bootheel.

A veteran of World War II — where he was shot in the face — Lloyd Lee Ross always voted for Democrats until Ronald Reagan came along. He was one of those "rural Americans" who've received so much attention since the unexpected (at least to those of us who live in the Big City) election of Donald Trump as president.

Papa celebrated his 93rd birthday just a few weeks before he died in 2011. What would he have thought about the brash billionaire who'll move into the White House next month? I sure wish he were still living so I could ask him. I have no doubt he'd have a strong opinion — and wouldn't be shy about expressing it.

I thought about Papa as I read Washington Post religion writer (and former GetReligionista) Sarah Pulliam Bailey's thought-provoking piece last week on overlooked rural evangelicals:

In recent decades, white evangelical leaders made the American city their mission field. If you wanted to change hearts and minds, you had to go to cultural centers of power, such as New York City or Washington, where the population was growing. Now some evangelicals are wondering if that shift has caused them to overlook the needs and concerns of their counterparts in rural America.
Donald Trump’s victory put the spotlight on white, rural voters, many of them evangelicals, who were drawn to his “Make America Great Again” message. Even as exit polls suggested that 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump, some evangelicals in urban and suburban areas said they didn’t personally know other evangelicals who vocally supported the president-elect. Although three-quarters of evangelicals are white and lean heavily Republican, they are a huge and diverse group, accounting for a close to a quarter of all Americans, with Latinos making up the fastest-growing segment.
Trump carried nearly 93 percent of rural, mostly white evangelical counties, according to political scientist Ryan Burge. Nearly all of the rural evangelical counties that did not break for Trump were counties in Southern states where African Americans make up a majority of the population, Burge’s analysis shows. Data isn’t available showing how white evangelicals in urban and suburban areas voted.

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A word from Australia: Rural voters ruled 2016, but journalists should keep an eye on ...

A word from Australia: Rural voters ruled 2016, but journalists should keep an eye on ...

As you would imagine, I am still digging through stacks and stacks of emails and (digital) news clips in the wake of the Election Day earthquake and the news-media meltdown that followed. You don't even want to know the size of my email in-box right now.

While doing that, I came across a think piece on the election results -- from Australia, of all places -- that contained a useful typology that journalists might want to study. This is especially true for reporters who are sincerely interested in what happened with American evangelicals, especially those in predominately white congregations.

It helps to know that the author of this piece. the Rev. Michael Bird, is an Anglican priest and theologian, linked to Ridley College in Melbourne, who also blogs and writes essays of this kind for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The bland and rather wonkish headline on this particular piece was: "US election: Why did evangelicals vote for Donald Trump?"

The key to the piece is that this is not the question that interested him the most. The heart of the essay focused on another question that should be more interesting to journalists: Who are these Americans who everyone keeps calling "evangelicals" and leaving it at that?

Early on, Bird notes that he was in Houston during the GOP primaries and delivered a lecture attended by quite a few conservative Christians.

I began my talk by asking three questions: Why don't Americans use the metric system? Why is the cheese orange? And who are the evangelicals who are voting for Donald Trump?
I got a response of riotous laughter because just about everyone there supported Ted Cruz and hoped a local Texan would defeat the vulgar New Yorker. I asked the last question because, among my hundreds of American evangelical friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, I could count all of the Donald Trump supporters I knew on one hand.

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