Religious Voters Feel Conflicted About Trump And Clinton "I've always felt that the Republicans align with my beliefs," said Judith Martinez, 51, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Mexico.
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Religious Voters May Lean Republican, But Feel Conflicted About The Candidates

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Religious Voters May Lean Republican, But Feel Conflicted About The Candidates

Religious Voters May Lean Republican, But Feel Conflicted About The Candidates

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In a typical election, religious identity is a big factor at the polls. Surveys show that people who are more religious are more likely to vote Republican. But Donald Trump is not a typical Republican presidential nominee. So NPR's Tom Gjelten went to North Carolina to find out how some religious voters are choosing between two candidates they're not thrilled about.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: We can all identify in different ways - by our age, perhaps, or by our gender or ideology or ethnicity.

JUDITH MARTINEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

GJELTEN: Judith Martinez - a U.S. immigrant from Mexico, newly married, 51 years old, devout Christian.

MARTINEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Speaking Spanish).

GJELTEN: She's preaching this evening to about 25 Latino men and women in the basement of Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Boone, N.C. This is her ministry.

MARTINEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

GJELTEN: "Don't think you can accomplish something without Jesus," she says. "You might say, I can stop drinking on my own, but without Jesus it won't work."

MARTINEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

GJELTEN: Judith herself is a naturalized U.S. citizen. The immigrant men and women to whom she ministers have only temporary work permits.

MARTINEZ: (Through interpreter) Many of them are worried. They wonder what will happen after the election. They are afraid they'll be deported. And they're afraid they'll be separated from their families.

GJELTEN: The election worries them because the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, says he wants to deport immigrants here illegally. Last year, he said many of the Mexicans who've come are bringing drugs and crime. Judith doesn't like Trump.

MARTINEZ: (Through interpreter) He's crude, very crude. Mexicans are some of the people here who work the hardest. He doesn't value their effort.

GJELTEN: And yet, Judith is a registered Republican. And when the election comes around, she expects to vote for the Republican candidate - for Donald Trump. She says her religious beliefs, her opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, influence her thinking.

MARTINEZ: (Through interpreter) I've always felt that the Republicans align with my beliefs. The Bible is very clear in telling us the way we should live, and we're not respecting that.

GJELTEN: Judith's inclination to support Donald Trump in spite of what he has said about Mexicans holds with a pattern identified by the Pew Research Center. How religious someone is can predict how they're likely to vote. The more religious lean Republican, the less religious, Democrat, regardless of age, gender or education.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Let your voice be heard.

GJELTEN: Here in Boone, N.C., that brings some surprising voter preferences.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hi, is your voter registration up-to-date? Would you like to register...

GJELTEN: Volunteers are staffing a voter registration table at this community shelter serving people who are homeless or experiencing other poverty-related crises. It's called Hospitality House.

RENEE MILLER: And I am finished with my voter registration.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yep.

MILLER: Awesome, thank you so much.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Thank you.

GJELTEN: Among the Hospitality House residents prepared to vote this fall is Renee Miller, a 34-year-old single mom.

MILLER: I've been here a year. I came here homeless and pregnant and addicted to drugs. And the Hospitality House has really been helpful. I have a healthy baby - beautiful girl.

GJELTEN: Hospitality House gave her a free place to stay, three meals a day and enrolled her in a treatment program. In politics, Renee leans Republican, even while acknowledging a Republican president like Donald Trump might be less likely than Hillary Clinton to support government spending for places like Hospitality House.

MILLER: At this point, you know, if I had to vote today, I definitely probably would say I would vote for Trump. And that still scares me because it's the Democratic Party that I feel like reaches out for these programs, you know, and stuff. But I just have a lot of mistrust for Hillary right now.

GJELTEN: In part, it has to do with her Christian upbringing in a conservative Pentecostal tradition.

MILLER: I definitely want a leader who does believe in God or, you know, believe in the higher power that's out there, you know. And I want people to be able to have religious freedom.

GJELTEN: Hillary Clinton is a Christian and speaks often of her faith. But for Renee, as for others, religion goes with Republicanism. That's the pattern Pew Research found. Now, there is an important exception. One factor weighs more than religion - race.

FRED BROWN: African-Americans, you say? I think they're going to vote for Hillary.

GJELTEN: Fred Brown, a black man, is another Hospitality House resident.

BROWN: I don't like Trump at all, can't stand him. He got a big mouth, you know. And he hides behind his money. I don't like that. I don't like any man that hides behind his money.

GJELTEN: Brown says he loves and respects the Lord, but with African-Americans, whether they're religious doesn't really predict their vote. Recent surveys show Donald Trump getting only about 5 percent of the African-American vote regardless of religious affiliation. For others, a strong faith does go with a slight Republican tilt. But here in Boone, N.C., this year may be a little different. What a strong faith seems to predict here more than anything else is disenchantment.

That's a widely shared feeling in the electorate this year, even with nearly half of Trump supporters feeling very enthusiastic about him, according to a new ABC/Washington Post poll. A smaller share of Clinton supporters, about a third, say the same of her. But it's hard to find any enthusiasm among religious voters here in Boone. Indeed, of a more than two dozen religious voters we interviewed here, including Judith Martinez and Renee Miller, not one is a hardcore supporter of either Trump or Clinton.

JACK LAWRENCE: It's a real shame to me that with the country that we have that this is the best we can do.

KRISTENE MARTIN: I think it's a scary election for me. And there's part of me that wants to check out.

DAVID CUTHBERT: I'm struggling very much in this election. And I don't necessarily think that the values that I hold dear are necessarily represented.

GJELTEN: Jack Lawrence, Kristene Martin and David Cuthbert - members of an interdenominational church in Boone called The Heart, committed Christians who say their faith is central to their decision making. This is David.

CUTHBERT: That's where we find our identity first and foremost is being a Christian. It's not an extra ingredient or a separate aspect of our life. It is our entire identity.

CUTHBERT: Of the six people gathered at The Heart this evening, two say they'll probably vote for Hillary Clinton, one for Donald Trump, three are still undecided. None has found their Christian beliefs dictating a clear choice. Dejah Miranda Huxley says the question is who she votes against.

DEJAH MIRANDA HUXLEY: That's a tough way to look at it. But I know neither side will reflect my faith. I know that. I totally understand that.

GJELTEN: She'll vote against Trump. And here is Jack Lawrence.

LAWRENCE: I'll tell you this, I will not vote for anybody. I will cast a vote. But I will not vote for anybody.

GJELTEN: In his case, a vote against Clinton. Guided in life by their faith, but not finding it much of a guide in this election. Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Boone, N.C.

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