In the 2020 presidential election, most exit polls showed Donald Trump largely holding on to his support among white evangelicals with approximately 81% support essentially the same as in 2016 (AP VoteCast). Trump saw a drop in the white Catholic vote to Biden, who is Catholic, but gained among Catholic Hispanics. Trump held this religious vote despite his questionable moral decisions, the fact he rarely went to church, and his statement during the campaign that he was no longer a Presbyterian but a non-denominational Christian.
How did Trump hold this support? There are many factors, but one may be the President’s use of religious language starting in the primaries, in the 2016 campaign, and continuing throughout his years in office. In her paper entitled Thou Art in a Deal: The Evolution of Religious Language in the Public Communications of Donald Trump, Hughes (2020) uses text analytics to evaluate Trump’s use of religious language in 175 rally speeches between 2016-2018 and more than 30,000 tweets. The author used WordStat content analysis software to help her in her analysis.
As part of her exploratory work, Hughes made extensive use of WordStat’s key-word-in-context feature. She established from the tweets and speeches 103 “faith terms” and nine “God terms” then used “Religious terms” as a token to group them together. She used the standard WordStat exclusion dictionary which removes words such as conjunctions, adverbs, pronouns etc. KWIC was used with a setting of 10 words coming before or after a Religious term word in speeches and tweets to examine how the words were used in context. She also analyzed how Trump addresses Islam in his speeches and tweets. Using topic modeling as one measure, Islam shows it is consistently linked to radical, terror, and terrorism.
The analysis of the religious language in Trump speeches and tweets leads to an interesting discussion of their significance politically, strategically, and perhaps personally. Clearly, this language is part of Trump’s successful courting of this segment of the U.S. electorate, a segment that helped him win the presidency in 2016 and almost got him re-elected in 2020.
Hughes, C. (2020). Thou Art in a Deal: The Evolution of Religious Language in the Public Communications of Donald Trump. International Journal of Communication, 14, 22.