Putting US First: How Outgroup Hostilities and Defense of the Status Quo Motivate White Evangelical Affect Toward Candidates in U.S. Elections 2004 to 2016

Date01 September 2021
Published date01 September 2021
Subject MatterArticles
American Politics Research
2021, Vol. 49(5) 534 –547
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X211021852
In the lead-up to the 2016 U.S. election, journalists and
scholars attempted to explain why so many white evangeli-
cal leaders endorsed Donald Trump and why so many polls
showed record high white evangelical1 support for the less
than conventional Republican candidate. At the root of this
puzzle was a question about how a social group defined by
clear culturally traditional policy goals, high moral expecta-
tions of elected officials, and clear religious boundaries
could support a thrice-married casino mogul, who bragged
about groping women without their consent and who made
several religious gaffes in the lead up to the election. Many
explained that evangelicals were simply “holding their
noses” and, when faced with two “immoral” candidates,
were choosing the candidate who would advance their policy
goals (Johnson, 2016). While such an explanation satisfied
some, it fails to account for evangelicals’ consistently high
feelings of warmth for Trump before the election and con-
tinuing into his term as president. If evangelicals did not like
Trump, but merely wanted him to nominate conservative
Supreme Court justices and fight for anti-LGBTQ+ policies,
why would they express such consistently positive feelings
toward Trump? The reason for this positive affect is their
shared outgroup hostilities against groups threatening the
status quo.
Since Ronald Reagan, white evangelicals have voted for
Republican candidates, and yet their enthusiastic embrace of
Trump, despite the fact that his personality, values, policy
positions, and faith did not align or make any serious effort
to align with evangelicals, remains a central question for
scholars of American political behavior. The puzzle of white
evangelical support for Trump, therefore, invites the ques-
tion of how members of a politically-important social group
construct feelings toward candidates when they lack either
shared policy goals or shared social identity with the candi-
date. More specifically, recent literature in political science
demonstrates that affective orientations are a key determi-
nant of polarization in the electorate and among elected offi-
cials (Amira et al., 2021; Huddy et al., 2015; Iyengar et al.,
2012; Iyengar & Westwood, 2014; Layman et al., 2006;
Martherus et al., 2021; Mason, 2016, 2018a, 2018b, 2018c;
Mason & Wronski, 2018; Van Bavel & Pereira, 2018). The
shift in focus on partisan affect has helped uncover the com-
plex dynamics of affective assessments across partisan lines,
1021852APRXXX10.1177/1532673X211021852American Politics ResearchMarsh
1University of Notre Dame, IN, USA
Corresponding Author:
Wayde Z.C. Marsh, University of Notre Dame, 2060 Jenkins Nanovic
Halls, Notre Dame, IN 46556, USA.
Email: wmarsh1@nd.edu
Putting US First: How Outgroup
Hostilities and Defense of the
Status Quo Motivate White
Evangelical Affect Toward Candidates
in U.S. Elections 2004 to 2016
Wayde Z. C. Marsh1
How do voters construct feelings toward inparty elites? More specifically, how do they do so when they lack a shared policy
agenda or shared salient social identity with candidates beyond partisan identification? In this paper, I investigate this puzzle
by developing a theory of Putting America First to explain white evangelical affect toward Republican presidential candidates
from 2004 to 2016. Using ANES surveys from 2004 to 2016, I test the effectiveness of this model of candidate affect. I find
that shared outgroup hostility, what I call Putting Us First, motivates positive affect for presidential candidates among white
evangelicals, regardless of shared policy objectives and descriptive representation. Overtime, white evangelicals’ affect is
driven by outgroup hostilities rather than Culture Wars values. Overall, this informs our understanding of voter affect
toward candidates and the increasingly important role of social outgroup hostility in defense of the status quo.
electoral behavior, candidate affect, partisanship, politics and religion, political psychology

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