It’s an election year in the U.S. and once again the Republicans are looking for ways to get more votes in Pennsylvania from the Amish. A news story on a Harrisburg-area television station last week described their latest attempt to court the Lancaster County Amish.
According to the report, the Trump administration invited some Amish people to meet with the president in the White House, the first time such a meeting has occurred. Congressman Lloyd Smucker, a Republican who represents Lancaster County, helped facilitate the meeting, though he indicated it was at the behest of the administration.
Kyle Kopko, Associate Professor of Political Science at Elizabethtown College, told the television reporter that wherever the Amish have registered to vote, they have overwhelmingly done so as Republicans. He said that the Amish population is doubling about every 20 years and they typically vote quite strongly for conservative candidates. However, “this is going to be a generational change,” he argued. Their voting is not likely to be significant in the 2020 election.
Steven Nolt, Professor of Anabaptist Studies at Elizabethtown, said that while a third of the Amish in Lancaster County remain farmers, the majority of them are now the owners of small businesses. Important issues for them are limiting the regulation of businesses by governments, limiting taxation, and securing religious liberty—classic Republican values.
But Prof. Nolt also said that the Amish are conscientious objectors; issues such as exemptions from serving in the military and not being required to send their kids to high school are important to them. He felt that having the president’s ear may prove to be beneficial for them.
Both professors indicated that political changes won’t occur overnight, though they agreed with the truism that every vote counts. The fate of the election in 2000 was decided by 537 votes in Florida for George Bush. If the 2020 election is as close, and if Pennsylvania turns out to be the keystone state, 1000 more Amish votes in Lancaster County could possibly decide the election, according to Dr. Kopko.
Earlier news stories in this website have mentioned this hope among Republican operatives in the state. A report in 2008 analyzed the 2004 election in which then-President Bush campaigned in Lancaster County. Despite the conservative values that Bush seemed to uphold and his genuinely charming public manner, the Lancaster County Amish in the long run may have also been opposed to voting for a president who had led the U.S. into a war with Iraq. Many of them appeared to sit out the election and let God, in their view, decide who would be the next president.
Another article in 2016 made similar points to the one eight years earlier. Despite the folksy, likeable style of Bush, and his frequent references to God in his speeches, the Amish had qualms about voting for him in 2004 due mostly to his war in Iraq. Out of more than 10,000 potential Amish voters in Lancaster County that year, just over 1,300 voted.
A reporter quoted in 2016 questioned noted authority on the Amish Donald Kraybill, also from Elizabethtown College, about the prospects for the 2016 election. Kraybill replied that while the Amish do tend to respect successful business executives, Donald Trump’s boastful style is antithetical to their passion for humility.