In 2011, a survey showed that 60 percent of white evangelicals believed that, for a president to be an ethical public leader, he must also be a moral person in his private life as well. Consistent ethics, the respondents said, is an important trait for someone in the most powerful position in the country.
But by October 2016, according to the Friendly Atheist, a time by which Republican then-nominee Donald Trump had been exposed for saying that Hollywood stars can “grab” women “by the pussy,” only 20 percent said that Trump was not trustworthy enough for office. The vast majority of the respondents implied that, despite the contradiction between his private life of immorality and his public image as an “honest” leader, Trump could still be an ethical choice for president.
To learn more about this tension, researchers David Campbell and Geoffrey Layman asked white evangelicals the same question about the importance of consistency between private and public ethics. However, they prefaced the question by mentioning one of the following: Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, or neither.
And the results they gathered were fascinating. When primed with the mention of Bill Clinton and his presidential scandal, 27 percent of white evangelicals said that private immorality was very important to public ethics. But when the respondents heard Trump’s name, this figure dropped to six percent—a 21 percentage-point gap. Among Catholics, however, this gap was only five percent.
The study also found that white evangelical Democrats were less of hypocrites than their Republican counterparts. Party loyalty, they found, was the main factor causing the phenomenon. “White evangelicals as a group are less concerned about private immorality when Trump is involved than when Clinton is involved because they are overwhelmingly Republican,” read a report on the study from The Washington Post.