What a public lecture can teach you about the role of religion in political campaigns

Niall Maher attended a public lecture led by Professor David Hempton to learn about the role religion played in the recent election of Donald Trump


On Wednesday January 11, Professor David Hempton gave an illuminating public lecture on the subject of “Religion and Political Culture in the United States” in the School of Ecumenics/Loyola Institute. Professor Hempton is an Irish historian and dean of the School of Divinity, Harvard University. The talk, which was jointly organised by the Confederal School of Religions and the Harvard Club of Ireland, gave a detailed insight into the role religion played in the recent election of Donald Trump.

Prof Hempton began his lecture with an analysis of why Trump won the election. He claimed Trump was a beneficiary of the “vagaries of the electoral college system”. Clinton won the popular vote, although he noted that Trump would have won had California and New York State been discounted. The electoral college system disproportionately represents states that emphasis farming and that have a low population density. These are the states that Trump did particularly well in.

One demographic that overwhelmingly voted for Trump was the White Evangelicals. 81% voted for Trump which proved to be hugely significant when considering that they make up almost 25% of the population, according to Professor Hempton. He claimed White Evangelical supporters disapproved of Trump’s character but they voted for him anyway because “they disliked Hillary more”.


They particularly disliked Hilary’s support for Planned Parenthood and gay marriage. Interestingly, Prof Hempton quoted a statistic saying that a slim majority of White Evangelicals feel they are discriminated against in the United States. White Evangelical voters also voted Republican with regard to Supreme Court seats becoming empty in the future.

Prof Hempton noted the reluctance of Clinton of using her own Methodist religion as a way of connecting with votes. He said “the Democratic party think there is more to lose than to gain by broaching religion”. Clinton’s Methodism never came to the surface at all during her campaign which was “ironic, considering she is the more religious of the two”.


Overall, Hempton provided a worthwhile narrative on an aspect of the ever-controversial American presidential race that would otherwise be overlooked by many.