Marco Rubio tops the list of preferred 2016 presidential candidates in the October Evangelical Leaders Survey. While 26 percent of evangelical leaders picked Rubio, 21 percent were undecided and 7 percent said none of the candidates.
Ben Carson and John Kasich trailed Rubio — each with 12 percent. Jeb Bush received 9 percent of the votes. Other candidates — including Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump — received an insignificant number of votes.
“Rubio represents a new generation of conservative leadership to many,” said Leith Anderson, NAE president. “But about the same number of evangelical leaders aren’t seeing a strong candidate for them in the mix, and frontrunners didn’t fare well in our poll.”
A supporter of Rubio said, “He has a strong personal story, is articulate regarding the issues, and seems more balanced and centered than the other candidates.”
One undecided leader noted frustration with the current list of candidates, saying, “While I wish for a candidate who shares my conservative moral views, I don’t want a candidate who continues to exacerbate the culture wars. I want a candidate who will support immigration reform and sentencing reform and who will have collaborative skills to work with opposing party members.”
Though reported to have the support of evangelicals, Trump did not perform well in the NAE poll with some leaders specifically noting “Not Trump” or “Anyone but Donald Trump.”
Steve Jones, president of The Missionary Church who is currently undecided about the candidates, described the traits he looks for in a president: competence (proven skill and experience), character (attitudes and behavior that reflect those of Christ) and charisma (the ability to lead in such a way that people willingly follow).
“Only Jesus had these three traits in perfect balance. Since we can’t have him as our president, we will know we have found our candidate when they display self-sacrifice rather than self-promotion, competence, and a personality that inspires people to emulate and to follow,” he said.
Some leaders noted they are waiting for the crowd of candidates to narrow before deciding.
The Evangelical Leaders Survey is a monthly poll of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Evangelicals. They include the CEOs of denominations and representatives of a broad array of evangelical organizations including missions, universities, publishers and churches.