As the 2016 Presidential election heads into its final stretch, Americans are once again debating the merits of different candidates. Deeply held beliefs and perceptions of national identity and priorities are spilling out into everyday conversations wherever people meet or work. As the media and citizenry alike watch the political landscape for clues of emerging trends, the Amish have been featured in occasional speculation about electoral allegiances. Because “Anabaptist Historians” probes Anabaptist histories in an effort to connect the contemporary issues to the past, this post will attempt to provide historical context for the question: “Will the Amish vote for Trump?”
Media interest in the question of Amish support for Trump began in May when the Lancaster, Pennsylvania newspaper LNP first ran an article reporting on the creation of Amish PAC, a political action committee run by professional political operatives whose goal was to drive up Amish turnout and support for the GOP ticket. The article noted that this new group was an entirely new innovation “because it is being run by political professionals from inside the Washington Beltway instead of by local party workers or campaigns.”1 The creation of Amish PAC did not go unnoticed by other media, and several weeks later Politico carried an article entitled “Amish for Trump.” The premise for the article was spelled out rather clearly in the subtitle/explanation line: “Can Ben Carson and Newt Gingrich allies convince this anti-divorce, tech-shunning group to back the boasting billionaire?”2
Media attention continued to follow the activities of Amish PAC. In July, LNP reported on the Amish PAC’s launching of newspaper ads and billboards.3 These ads have been placed in publications read by the Amish and have explicitly targeted Amish and other Plain group participation in the 2016 election. The strategy of these Amish PAC ads was to introduce Donald Trump as a successful businessman who would stand up to political corruption. In August, The Philadelphia Inquirer took notice of the activities of Amish PAC,4 and US News and World Report carried an article by Kyle Kopko entitled, “Will the Amish turnout for Trump? Don’t Bet the Farm.”5 Kopko’s article reviewed the research he did with Donald Kraybill analyzing the effort to convince the Amish to turnout for George W. Bush in the 2004 election.6
Media attention to Amish support of Donald Trump intensified after Trump held a large rally in western Lancaster County. On September 30, 2016, Trump made held a rally at the Spooky Nook Sports Complex in Manheim, Pennsylvania. The crowd size was estimated at 6,000 people. Although there wasn’t a specific Amish outreach component to the rally in this strong GOP stronghold, Trump was clearly aware that he was in Amish Country as he made note of the tenth anniversary of the Nickel Mines Amish school shooting.7 Numerous media reports after the rally took note of Amish attendance at the rally, including LNP8 and Al Jazeera.9
Historical Precedent – 2004
Donald Kraybill and Kyle Kopko’s previously cited analysis of the participation of Lancaster County Amish in the 2004 election is a thorough review of a very aggressive effort to use the Amish as a new electoral tool to help boost Republican support in swing state Pennsylvania. The below points are a few summary points from their research:
- While voting is not anathema to all Amish or forbidden by the Ordnung that governs Amish life, there is a strong reluctance to political participation. This reluctance is tied to communal and theological values and is hard to overcome.
- The Republican outreach attempts of 2004 were bolstered by strong community advocates and three separate visits Bush made to the area that included direct meetings with the Amish. In these meetings Bush impressed the Amish with humble and folksy demeanor they could relate to and trust.
- Many Amish identified with key item’s in Bush’s 2004 platform, especially related to traditional values and opposition to abortion and gay marriage.
- In the fall of 2004 approximately 20.6% of voting-age Amish in Lancaster County were registered to vote. The 2,134 Lancaster County Amish that were registered to vote in 2004 represented a large jump from the 598 who were registered to vote in 2000. Nearly all of them (92.6%) were registered as Republicans. Amish voter turnout in 2004 was 62.9%, meaning approximately 13% of voting-age Lancaster County Amish cast a ballot in 2004.
- Despite the pre-election rhetoric about the role the Amish could play in a swing state like Pennsylvania, the 1,342 Lancaster County Amish who voted in 2004 was a statistically small number compared to the 144,248 vote margin by which Bush lost Pennsylvania to Kerry.
- Kraybill and Kopko also noted that Amish voter registration and turnout percentages were more than double that of Old Order Mennonite groups in the county.
If the historical precedent of 2004 has much relevance to the question of whether Amish will vote for Donald Trump on November 8, we can expect the Amish PAC and politically active Amish to provide the backdrop for interesting conversations in Lancaster County. To expect a large shift in Amish voter participation, however, would be to expect Trump to have far greater appeal to the larger Amish community than Bush did. Now there’s a question that history won’t be able to answer until November 9.
- Sam Janesch, “New PAC looks to get Amish vote for Donald Trump,” LNP Online, May 15, 2016, http://lancasteronline.com/news/politics/new-pac-looks-to-get-amish-vote-for-donald-trump/article_45bad350-1949-11e6-a23a-33ecffcf4a7f.html ↩
- Katie Glueck,”Amish for Trump,” Politico, May 29, 2016, http://www.politico.com/story/2016/05/donald-trump-amish-voters-223669 ↩
- Sam Janesch, “Amish PAC launches newspaper ads to introduce the Plain community to Donald Trump,” LNP Online, July 14, 2016, “http://lancasteronline.com/news/politics/amish-pac-launches-newspaper-ads-to-introduce-the-plain-community/article_b5b2b7c8-4940-11e6-8b28-a7a06b9a1fc7.html
- Michael Matza, “For Donald Trump, the Plain People are plainly in play,” Philly.com, August 15, 2016, http://articles.philly.com/2016-08-15/news/74996709_1_amish-people-donald-trump-amish-horse-and-buggy ↩
- Kyle C. Kopko, “Will the Amish turn out for Donald Trump? Don’t bet the farm,” U.S. News and World Report, August 4, 2016, http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-08-04/will-the-amish-turn-out-for-trump-dont-bet-the-farm ↩
- Donald B. Kraybill and Kyle C. Kopko, “Bush Fever: Amish and Old Order Mennonites in the 2004 Presidential Election,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 81 (July 2007), 165-205. Also available online at http://www.kylekopko.com/Research_files/Bush_Fever.pdf ↩
- Sam Janesch, “Donald Trump bashes Clinton in rally with 6,000 supporters in Lancaster,” LNP Online, October 1, 2016, http://lancasteronline.com/news/pennsylvania/donald-trump-bashes-clinton-in-rally-with-supporters-in-lancaster/article_7f346dfc-8844-11e6-a77b-93622ea539c0.html ↩
- Jessica Sarhan, “US Elections: America’s Amish voters,” Aljazeera.com, September 29,2016 http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/09/elections-america-amish-voters-160915122802283.html ↩
- Jeff Hawkes and Heather Stauffer, “Thousands lined up for Trump rally at Spooky Nook Sports in Lancaster County,” LNP Online, October 1, 2016, http://lancasteronline.com/news/local/thousands-lined-up-for-trump-rally-at-spooky-nook-sports/article_9185f928-87f2-11e6-8311-6bf987b32c25.html ↩