RNA poll: Trump dominates 2016, but was not (#Really) Religion Newsmaker of the Year

So when did Citizen Donald Trump win the White House? 

You could make a case that it was when Hillary Rodham Clinton kept going to see the musical "Hamilton" over and over, rather than taking her husband's advice and making a few campaign trips to visit with angry working-class, labor-union Catholic families in the deeply depressed corners of Rust Belt states like Wisconsin and Michigan.

Or maybe the key moment in the cultural earthquake that topped this year's Religion News Association Top 10 religion-stories poll -- the subject of this week's Crossroads podcast -- actually took place in 2015.

That's what David Bernstein argued in a Washington Post analysis that ran with this headline: "The Supreme Court oral argument that cost Democrats the presidency." He argued that the crucial moment in this campaign took place on April 28, 2015, during debates at the U.S. Supreme Court (.pdf transcript here) that led to the 5-4 decision on the Obergefell same-sex marriage case.

JUSTICE ALITO:  Well, in the Bob Jones case, the Court held that a college was not entitled to tax­ exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating. So would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same­sex marriage?
GENERAL VERRILLI: You know, I, I don't think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it's certainly going to be an issue. I, I don't deny that. I don't deny that, Justice Alito.  It is, it is going to be an issue.

From that moment on, argued Bernstein, it was clear that -- for millions of doctrinally conservative religious believers in various faiths -- the future of the Supreme Court and the First Amendment's free exercise of religion clause was going to be the No. 1 issue in the 2016 presidential race. I totally agree with his take on that. Hold that thought.

This brings us to the results of the RNA poll to name the Top 10 religion-beat stories of the year. Please click here to read the RNA ballot items, in the official press release announcing the results. I imagine that there was quite a bit of debate, this year, about the wording of some of the nominated events -- especially the ones that ended up at the very top.

As I have for the past 28 years, I wrote up my own take on this Top 10 list as one of my "On Religion" columns. Here is the top of that piece:

While Donald Trump's crusade to win the White House was the top story of 2016, journalists in the Religion News Association saluted the brash billionaire's opponents by giving their top honor to the Muslim parents who made headlines by denouncing him.
Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Gold Star parents of U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, who died in Iraq, shared the Religion Newsmaker of the Year honor. The Khans made a dramatic Democratic National Convention appearance to proclaim that Trump's proposed temporary ban on Muslims entering the country would be unconstitutional.
The RNA description of the annual poll's No. 1 story stressed that Trump received "strong support from white Christians, especially evangelicals. … Many were alarmed by his vilifying Muslims and illegal immigrants and his backing from white supremacists. GOP keeps majorities in Congress."
The No. 2 story continued: "Post-election assaults and vandalism target Muslims and other minorities. Some assailants cite Donald Trump's victory as validation. Critics denounce the appointment of Stephen Bannon as White House strategist over his ties to white supremacists." News related to Trump appeared in three other RNA Top 10 stories.

As noted above, my take on the religion trends linked to Trump's win -- or Clinton's loss, as many journalists (including me) would see it -- was somewhat different.

One more time, let me point GetReligion readers toward a prophetic Christianity Today piece back in July that, clearly, lots of mainstream journalists should have read as America lurched closer to Election Day. As I wrote in my column:

While white evangelical votes were crucial, I would have stressed two other religion trends linked to Trump's stunning win.
The first was captured in a mid-summer Christianity Today headline that, citing Pew Research Center polling, stated, "Most Evangelicals Will Vote Trump, But Not For Trump." Pew found that more than half of white evangelicals were upset about 2016 White House options and said their aim was to defeat Hillary Clinton, not support Trump.
Election Night plot twists also showed that Clinton lost because she lacked support from Rust Belt working-class Democrats, many from Catholic, labor-union homes that twice backed President Barack Obama.
The RNA Top 10 selections did not include items linked to bitter battles over religious liberty, Obama White House orders on transgender rights or the Supreme Court opening caused by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. These issues were crucial in producing the strong Election Day turnout by religious conservatives.

Well, that's what I think.

Click here to see the rest of my take on the RNA Top 10. And enjoy the podcast.

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