An effort to mobilize potential Amish voters in Pennsylvania and Ohio to support Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is continuing in spite of a decision by one nationally read newspaper to drop a political action committee’s advertising.
The ad shows Trump sitting at a desk and describes him as the pro-life owner of family businesses who does not drink alcohol and has never been a politician before.
Associate publisher Milo Miller said The Budget refunded the remainder of its fee to Amish PAC after receiving responses from readers. As far as he knew, this was the first time the paper had run an ad on a national political issue.
The Holmes County (Ohio) Hub Shopper has been running the ads for more than a month. Publisher Andrew Dix said he wasn’t aware of reader feedback about the ad, and it was not the first time the 120-year-old publication ran ads about a national election.
Amish PAC’s Lancaster, Pa.-based outreach director Ben King said The Budget would have been a great newspaper to advertise in, and it was difficult to say how the decision impacted his organization.
“We’re not going to let that stop us. We’ll look at other ways to reach them as well,” he said. “We’ve used small shopper papers. We’ll probably start in the [Lancaster area]. I really don’t think it will have a huge impact.”
The group is nearing $40,000 in donations and is adding a third billboard in Pennsylvania. Beyond advertising, Amish PAC is working to distribute mail-in voter registration forms. In early August, King helped two Amish men get tickets to a Lancaster appearance by Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence.
“There really could be 5,000 to 6,000 votes readily available if we do it right,” said King, who was formerly Amish. “We haven’t really done door-to-door yet. What we’ve been doing more is non-Amish people see the ads . . . and we’ve received a lot of feedback that they’ll talk to Amish they know in their immediate area.
“With the Amish community I think the trust factor is a big deal.”
Inspiring thousands of Amish not only to register but also to vote is a significant challenge. Historian Steven M. Nolt, an expert on the Amish, said very few of the roughly 300,000 Amish in the U.S. even consider voting. Nolt is professor of history and Anabaptist studies at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College and senior scholar at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies.
He said that in 2004 a push by Republicans in Lancaster and Holmes counties increased registered Lancaster Amish by 1,300 to 2,100, but many of them did not vote. (Of the 1,300 new registrations, seven registered as Democrats.) The Young Center calculated that only about 13 percent of the Amish population in the two counties voted.
“There’s a bit of a paradox that might explain why some Amish people would [vote],” Nolt said. “The Amish two-kingdom theology — separation of church and the world — is so stark. It means Amish people have really low expectations for the state, low expectations for politicians.”
The division between church and world leads many to keep their distance from voting, but for others, that tension allows them to support a candidate seemingly contrary to the principles of plain life.
“For someone to point out all the ways Trump is antithetical to [Amish] values, it doesn’t really strike them as being very different from what you could say about any political candidate,” Nolt said. Amish people have expressed concerns to him about both major-party presidential candidates’ wealth.
Nolt said some Amish are aware of issues that separate the presidential contenders, while others are more insulated. He recalled an Amish minister and small business owner in Iowa before the state’s 2008 caucus.
“He was only vaguely aware of names like Barack Obama and John McCain,” Nolt said. “Nobody knew yet who would be the presidential candidates, but how could you live in Iowa and not know the names?”
He recalls others in relatively remote locations who have regular interaction about politics with non-Amish neighbors.
“They aren’t cut off from mass media, but they aren’t getting as much as the rest of us,” he said.
He described Amish PAC’s newspaper advertisement as a savvy collection of five or six concepts about Trump that would appeal to Amish sensitivities but said that’s not the only information available to them.
“Can you just present those five or six points in a vacuum?” he asked. “Maybe to a few Amish people, but not to most of them.”
King acknowledged the difficulty of persuading the Amish to vote but declined to call them resistant to the idea.
“I would say, if anything, [it’s] hesitation. . . . There is acknowledgment that the country is going down the wrong path,” King said. “Some say it’s more important to pray than to vote. I think it’s good to do both.”