These are questions that occurred to me as I looked through the articles analyzing what just happened in South Carolina.
Exit polls conducted for the Associated Press and television networks show it was Trump's surprisingly strong performance among self-described evangelical conservatives in South Carolina that helped him notch another double-digit victory and sweep all 50 delegates. It was a grave blow to Ted Cruz, who invested heavily in his pursuit of religious conservatives here only to finish a narrow third behind Marco Rubio.That's from one of the 22 NYT articles that used the term "evangelical" in the last 4 days. I observe that voters only "self-described" as "evangelical" because it was one of the options framed by the pollsters.
Maureen Dowd has the word in her column ("Escape From Bushworld"):
Despite all the talk about civility, the Bushes threw out the red meat whenever they had to, from Lee Atwater and Willie Horton in ’88 to W.’s supporters whispering in 2000 that John McCain came home from Hanoi with snakes in his head, to the W. 2004 campaign strategy of encouraging gay marriage ballot initiatives to rile up the evangelicals, to Jeb spending a fortune on ads this winter eviscerating the character of the man he deemed the disloyal protégé, Marco Rubio.That's one hell of a sentence. I'd like to diagram it, but I'll just run it through a readability calculator. It's at the 13th grade level. Anyway, "evangelicals" seems to mean: those backward people who are susceptible to manipulation by cynical, devious politicos.
Here's a piece — "Poll Watch: Donald Trump’s Curiously Strong Support Among Evangelicals" — by a polisci prof named David R. Jones.
[Trump] has made perhaps the least effort of any Republican candidate to showcase his religiosity. And when he has done so, it has not always gone smoothly, saying, for example, that he did not believe he needed to seek forgiveness from God. Mr. Trump also performs the worst of all remaining candidates among voters who say it is most important to have a candidate who shares their values.... [But] only 4 in 10 evangelicals in South Carolina said that the most important quality to them was having a candidate who shares their values....Jones cautions against "stereotyping evangelical voters as a homogeneous bloc that prioritizes religious belief and religious observance above all other concerns," but he doesn't question the term itself. It seems to refer to something real: It's just hard to know what these real people will do, and you can't just snap up their votes by "showcasing religiosity."
But how real is it, if there's no bloc? What are we talking about... and who are we?