A conservative group that frustrates Republicans

THE AMISH are members of a devoutly religious community with Swiss-German roots who rely on themselves. They do not pay Social Security taxes and lack health insurance. When somebody falls badly ill, the community chips in to pay for care. “They are the original Tea Party,” says Donald Kraybill of Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.

Unlike the Tea Party movement, though, the 300,000-strong Amish are almost politically irrelevant. The church does not encourage voting, and only around one in ten eligible Amish voters go to the polls. As an Amish saying goes: “We don’t vote, but we pray Republican”. Republicans dearly hope that will change this year, not least because many Amish live in three politically crucial states: Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

A political action committee formed in 2016, Amish PAC, is rallying the faithful. “Our nation and our way of life are still in mortal danger,” reads an advertisement on billboards and in newspapers such as The Budget and Die Botschaft (print is a good way to reach this technology-averse group). If the Amish stay away from the polls, the advertisement continues, Democrats could remove a president who “has kept his promises to lower taxes, reduce over-regulation and preserve our religious freedoms!”

Like other conservative Protestants, many Amish overlook the personal foibles of a thrice-married president who has been accused of having extra-marital affairs. “God chose him for a reason, so we accept him,” says Sarah Ann Helmuth, who cooks for tourists on her farm in Illinois. The Amish have great respect for the “high and mighty king”, adds Mr Kraybill. Because they do not follow social media or watch television, they are mostly sheltered from the president’s tweet storms and verbal outbursts.

A campaign to get out the Amish vote for George W. Bush seems to have worked in 2004. By comparison, the effort in 2016 failed. A study of Lancaster County in Pennsylvania by Elizabethtown College’s Young Centre for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies found that Amish turnout in 2016 was 24% lower than in 2004, even though the number of eligible Amish voters was much higher. Perhaps the warnings are wearing thin. The continuing growth of this profoundly different religious community through Republican and Democratic presidencies suggests that the Amish way of life is not, in fact, under threat at all.

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