share of U.S. public says it is important for president to have strong religious beliefs

Evangelical voters are rallying strongly in favor of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Indeed, the latest Pew Research Center survey finds that despite the professed wariness toward Trump among many high-profile evangelical Christian leaders, evangelicals as a whole are, if anything, even more strongly supportive of Trump than they were of Mitt Romney at a similar point in the 2012 campaign. At that time, nearly three-quarters of white evangelical Protestant registered voters said they planned to vote for Romney, including one-quarter who “strongly” supported him.1 Now, fully 78% of white evangelical voters say they would vote for Trump if the election were held today, including about a third who “strongly” back his campaign.

Meanwhile, religiously unaffiliated voters – those who describe their religion as “atheist,” “agnostic” or “nothing in particular” – are lining up behind Hillary Clinton over Trump, much as they supported Barack Obama over Romney in 2012. Two-thirds of religiously unaffiliated registered voters say they would vote for Clinton if the election were held today, just as two-thirds intended to vote for Obama at a similar point in the 2012 campaign.2 Religious “nones” are, however, somewhat less enthusiastic about Clinton’s candidacy (26% now strongly support her) than they were about Obama in June 2012 (37%).

Considering both groups are quite large, the votes of white evangelical Protestants and religious “nones” could be important to the outcome of the 2016 election. White evangelical Protestants make up one-fifth of all registered voters in the U.S. and roughly one-third of all voters who say they identify with or lean toward the Republican Party. Religious “nones,” who have been growing rapidly as a share of the U.S. population, now constitute one-fifth of all registered voters and more than a quarter of Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters.

...On the Democratic side, religious “nones” were among the strongest supporters of Bernie Sanders during the primaries, and some observers have wondered whether Sanders’ supporters would support Clinton during the general election. But here again, even among religious “nones” who supported Sanders over Clinton, nearly nine-in-ten (87%) say they would prefer Clinton over Trump if they had to make that choice today....