The Roots of Evangelicals’ Political Fervor

White evangelical Christians are among President Trump’s most important supporters. But more than 40 years ago, they were on the margins of American politics.

For teachers
  • Read transcript
  • Producer: Shawn Hamilton
  • Producer: Sandra McDaniel
  • Producer: Scott Michels
  • Editor: Anne Checler

For Educators


This 11-minute video shows students how evangelical Christians responded to the political and cultural trends of the 1960s and 70s by deepening their political engagement, and by increasingly aligning themselves with the nascent conservative movement of the 1970s. This new engagement produced one of the most transformative political developments of the last 50 years, and the video helps students link the role of evangelical voters in the presidencies of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump. Useful for exploring how the cultural and political movements of the 1960s activated countermovements in the 1970s and 1980s, the video helps students identify the broad trends of causation and continuity that gave rise to the current political landscape.

Background reading

Evangelical Christians have become such a dominant force in the Republican party, it’s hard to imagine a time when they were not politically engaged.

But it wasn’t until the mid-1970s that they began to organize. And it wasn’t a Republican who got them started; it was a Democrat, Jimmy Carter.

Carter’s 1976 presidential bid put his faith in a national spotlight when he identified himself as a born-again Christian.

That phrase resonated with evangelical voters, who were pleased to hear a presidential candidate talk openly about his faith. Their votes played a key role in Carter’s victory.

That alliance was short-lived. Many evangelical voters found President Carter’s policies too liberal, and shifted their support to conservative preachers, like the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who supported so-called family values and opposed abortion and gay rights.

Falwell rode the growth of televangelism, turning his millions of viewers into the Moral Majority, a force that put Ronald Reagan in the White House in 1980.

Since then, evangelicals have played a dominant role in the rise of conservative Republicans and are a mainstay in the political base of Donald Trump.

Lesson Plan 1: Jimmy Carter and the Rise of Evangelical Voters

Students will learn how the cultural and political trends of the 1960s and 1970s led to heightened political engagement among evangelical Christians and the emergence of a powerful new conservative movement.

  • How Jimmy Carter’s election as president affected the cultural status and political engagement of evangelical Christians.
  • How cultural and political trends in the 1960s and 1970s contributed to the political engagement of many evangelical Christians.
  • How a newly politicized evangelical community was critically important to Ronald Reagan’s campaign and presidency.
Essential questions
  • What does it mean to be an evangelical or born-again Christian?
  • How did Jimmy Carter’s election affect the political engagement of the evangelical community?
  • Why did many evangelical activists come to oppose Jimmy Carter during his presidency?
  • What was the Moral Majority? What positions did it take?
  • What role did newly politicized evangelical Christians play in the election of Ronald Reagan?
  • Common Core State Standards
    • CCSS.ELA.LITERACY.RH.11-12.7:Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
    • CCSS.ELA.LITERACY.RI.11-12.3:Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequences of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact or develop over the course of a text.
  • National Council for the Social Studies C3 Framework
    • D2.His.1.9-12.Evaluate how historical events and developments were shaped by unique circumstances of time and place as well as broader historical contexts.
  • AP U.S. History
    • Topic 8.14: Society in Transition

      Skill 4.B: Explained how a specific historical process is situated within a broader historical context.

      Theme 7: American and Regional Culture (ARC)