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Trump job performance on the rise in S.C. with evangelicals standing by the president

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President Donald Trump waves as he boards Air Force One, Oct. 16, 2017, in Andrews Air Force Base, Md., en route Greenville for a fundraiser for South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

President Donald Trump's popularity in South Carolina has jumped four points in the past two months, a new poll finds, with his evangelical base sticking with him even as allegations of extramarital affairs haunt his presidency.

Trump's job approval rating is at 46 percent this month, ticking upward from 42 percent in February.

Eighty percent of Republicans say they approve of the job Trump is doing in office, according to polling released Wednesday by Winthrop University.

"It is primarily a function of a slight increase in popularity from February and March nationwide," said Winthrop political scientist Scott Huffmon, noting the bump may be amplified in conservative South Carolina.

The data is based on a phone survey of 789 South Carolina residents on both land lines and cellphones taken April 7-16.

The results carry an error margin of plus or minus 3.5 percent.

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Winthrop University, in Rock Hill, is the most consistent surveyor of voter moods in the state, issuing its polls several times a year.

Much of Winthrop's emphasis in this current survey traced attitudes from conservative-leaning, religious-affiliated South Carolinians, a group that has mostly stuck by Trump as he has faced mounting allegations in recent weeks of adulterous affairs long before entering the White House.

So far, the group has cared little of the allegations as a detriment to sticking with the president on like-minded stances.

According to Winthrop's data, almost three in four white evangelicals in the state agree with the statement the president is someone who stands for their values is "very" or "somewhat accurate."

Of all evangelicals polled, 57 percent said the same.

The support, however, is not unlimited. Less than half of the believers surveyed said it was accurate or somewhat accurate to describe Trump as "godly," "Christian" or "moral."

Some 36 percent of white evangelicals said describing Trump as godly would be very inaccurate.

Huffmon said the support data for the president bolsters what many conservatives see as Trump being the alternative to a more socially liberal occupant in the White House.

"The fact that fewer than half of Evangelicals overall would describe Trump as 'Godly' or 'Moral' suggests that his strength with these groups comes not from modeling pious behavior, but from them viewing him as a bulwark against a culture that they feel is increasingly hostile to them," he said.

Findings from the statewide survey come about a month after a Pew Research Center survey found nearly 8 in 10 white evangelical Protestants approve of Trump's job performance.

Both polls were conducted after porn star Stormy Daniels gave a nationally televised interview in which she detailed her alleged affair with Trump a decade ago.

The Rev. Kevin Baird, a conservative and the lead pastor at Charleston's Legacy Church, said the Winthrop poll findings only scratch the surface.

"(Trump) arrived in an era when American Christians easily compartmentalize their faith by dividing the sacred and secular," he said. "This is why they support his policies but numbers drop when assessing his character."

Other descriptors of the nation's 45th president saw broader agreement among the state's evangelicals. Some 67 percent call Trump "capable" while 68 percent call him "strong." Some 55 percent said it would be accurate or very accurate to call Trump "honest."

Among Republicans in South Carolina, Trump polls even higher. A staggering 89 percent of GOP respondents described Trump as "strong."

When asked whether churches and religious organizations are too involved in politics, nearly 50 percent of all survey respondents said they are, while 44 percent said they are not. In another question, 52 percent said the religious groups are too concerned with money and power.

"Many South Carolinians appear to worry that churches are becoming too involved in worldly affairs," Huffmon said, "John 15:19 says that Christians are not of this world and Romans 12:2 says that Christians are not to be conformed to this world. More than half of respondents seem to feel that churches are forgetting that message."

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

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