The Amish & Voting
Do Amish people vote for president? What about other elections? This question comes up regularly every two-to-four years. And it has to do, in part, with Pennsylvania and Ohio – traditionally two important political swing states. They’re also the states with the two largest Amish populations.
Do Amish vote? Short answer: some Amish do vote, but most do not. Only a small number of Amish cast ballots in presidential elections, likely less than 10%. Amish may be more likely to get involved when voting involves issues which directly affect them.
Despite the fact that relatively few Amish go to the polls, political operatives have for years viewed the Amish as a source of potential votes.
Why most Amish don’t vote
How many Amish vote?
Do Amish run for political office?
One time Amish when did vote – sort of
Do Amish support Republicans or Democrats?
Who votes among the Amish?
How do Amish vote without photo ID?
How do Amish follow politics?
Amish & Government: Related topics
So let’s explore why most Amish do not vote, and a few efforts that have been made to “get out the Amish vote” – and how they turned out. Also, we’ll take a look at which type of person is more likely to vote among the Amish – and of course, which political party Amish tend to vote for – Republican, Democrat, or something else?
Why most Amish people don’t vote
Why do Amish people vote in only limited numbers? They generally have a low voter turnout for a few reasons. For many Amish, voting conflicts with both their religious beliefs and cultural norms.
And like a lot of things, this is going to vary by the community. In some communities, a minority of Amish do vote. Voting is typically not prohibited outright, and the decision to vote is left to the individual in most congregations.
How many Amish vote?
By “minority”, this would mean 10% or less of the adult voting-eligible Amish population can be expected to vote. So that would be much less than the 60% typical turnout that you see among non-Amish Americans. And in some communities, virtually no Amish are going to vote. So why don’t Amish vote in the same numbers that non Amish do? There are several reasons why.
For one, Amish follow a “Two Kingdoms” theology. This is a belief that there exist both a material and a spiritual kingdom. In other words, God’s Kingdom (the heavenly kingdom), and Man’s kingdom. While respecting worldly governments, Amish feel that Christians should adhere to the laws of the spiritual kingdom – above all.
According to Two Kingdoms theology, Amish are most concerned with the laws and rules of God’s Kingdom. That’s where they want to end up – heaven. So obeying those laws (you can include matters of conscience and belief here) is going to be more important to them than obeying the laws and norms of Man’s Kingdom.
This doesn’t mean they disrespect the rules of man’s kingdom. They feel they should generally respect the laws. Amish are highly law-abiding. Usually, the laws of the two kingdoms align pretty well (though not always). That said, they view the material kingdom as worldly, and traditionally limit interaction within it.
Amish, on the whole, abide by the law. But they also feel they should keep their distance from “the world”. Voting – the act of selecting political leaders, who make decisions on things like using force and going to war (the Amish are a nonresistant people) – is something that ties Amish closer into the world, into man’s kingdom.
Additionally, voting in national elections for candidates who enact a wide array of laws in distant Washington may be seen by some Amish as an abstract endeavor. This is one reason that local elections concerning tangible issues may receive a greater response from Amish.
The Amish are highly practical people, and can be considered a “face-to-face” culture. The idea of voting for a local known political candidate to address issues in their immediate communities may appeal to some Amish more than supporting national candidates.
Another key principle here is that a lot of Amish believe that voting for candidates that might use force would violate their principles of nonresistance, which is the belief of the Amish that they should not inflict violence against other people.
This is why Amish do not serve in the military, or on police forces. It’s also why they traditionally do not initiate lawsuits, because that’s also viewed as a form of legal force.
Do Amish hold political office?
So given the above, Amish may hesitate to take part in electing a politician who may use force as an agent of the state. Amish do not run for political office themselves, for similar reasons. Representatives of the state may be required to use force in the form of deploying military or bringing lawsuits, which the Amish find objectionable.
Additionally, the act of running for political office – requiring you to promote yourself and denigrate the opposing candidate – also runs counter to Amish values of humility and modesty. So don’t expect to see an Amish President, senator, or other public official anytime soon.
Amish Voting – One example
Some Amish individuals have a different stance on voting in some places, especially the larger, more progressive communities. In these more business-oriented communities you’re going to see Amish who feel that it’s okay to vote.
The Amish are not a uniform body. Even though they may look alike, there are different norms and standards in different churches. On top of this, Amish people are individuals. Generally, the choice to vote is left up to the individual. Some churches might have prohibitions on voting in their Ordnung (church standards), though most do not. And there have definitely been some exceptions or special cases.
One of the most noteworthy examples of Amish and voting came in the 2004 election – George Bush versus John Kerry. We can look at the example of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
This was a case where a local political operative with ties to the Amish – who had actually been born into an Amish family, and spoke Pennsylvania Dutch – was part of efforts to get the Amish to vote in that election for George Bush. Bush attempted to tap into Amish interest when he visited both Lancaster County and Holmes County, Ohio during his re-election campaign to ask for Amish and Mennonite support.
More on that election in a moment. But first, which political party most resonates with the Amish?
Do Amish vote Republican or Democrat?
Which political party do Amish support? Traditionally, when they do vote, the Amish tend to vote Republican – overwhelmingly Republican.
That’s because the Amish align more with the conservative values traditionally associated with the Republican party. These would include, for example, the view that the party is more of a faith-oriented party, that it represents smaller government, lower taxes, and so on.
These are all things that appeal to the Amish. In a study on Amish voting by Donald Kraybill and Kyle Kopko, they wrote that some Old Orders occasionally joked that even if they did not vote Republican, they prayed Republican!
To take another example, in the book An Amish Paradox: Diversity and Change in the World’s Largest Amish Community, the authors noted that an Old Order Amish man used to joke that he could count the Amish who supported Democrats on one hand.
So while the Amish vote in low numbers, they can still support a given party, either silently or vocally. In summary, Amish have been called “armchair Republicans”, and are seen to be more sympathetic to the Republican party. Support for the Democratic party is rare among Amish.
The Amish & Bush vs. Gore
There were a lot of efforts done to rally support among the Amish for George Bush in the 2004 election in Lancaster County. In particular, Bush as a candidate actually visited Lancaster County on a number of occasions, and even met with Amish people there. He did the same in Holmes County, Ohio, home to the second-largest Amish community.
An Amish Paradox authors Hurst and McConnell report that in 2004, 43% of Holmes County Amish were registered to vote, though only 13% did so, with most selecting Bush (An Amish Paradox, Hurst and McConnell, p 267). So the upshot there was that in the end, you only had about 13% of the Amish adult population voting there.
That that would be higher than what you’d expect in a typical election for the Amish. But of course it’s not anything approaching the numbers that you’d see among the non-Amish.
How have Amish responded in later elections? Anecdotally, in 2008 at least one correspondent found decreased enthusiasm for John McCain‘s presidential campaign. A perception that a candidate endorses war can diminish appeal among Amish. Another, more recent example was the Amish PAC, and the campaigns of Donald Trump.
The Amish PAC & Donald Trump
The Amish Political Action Committee (Amish PAC) emerged in 2016 to try to similarly rally support for candidate Donald Trump. Despite it’s name, the Amish PAC was not organized by the Amish, but again by non-Amish with ties to the community.
This effort used outreach such as advertisements in publications read by the Amish, through billboards and traditional media, in order to try to encourage a vote for Donald Trump. The ads pitched Trump as a practical businessman, with a strong family life, who abstained from alcohol. Ads emphasized his stance on abortion and his work ethic. These were all points which would appeal to an Amish audience.
The Amish PAC was active in 2016, in 2018 in the midterms, and again in 2020. As a part of this outreach, Donald Trump had a number of Amish businesspeople visit the White House in late 2019. The Amish group included eight businesspeople, hailing from Pennsylvania and from Ohio. Was the personal outreach effective? One of the Amishmen who met with President Trump reached out to me after this visit, expressing his enthusiasm about the visit, and the president. The idea no doubt was to create some “evangelists” among the Amish, to help raise support back home.
But did the Amish PAC make a difference, in terms of motivating Amish to vote? Another study by Kyle Kopko suggests that the Amish PAC had only a minimal impact in the 2016 election – although Kopko notes that the Amish PAC certainly didn’t hurt.
In the end, we can conclude that it’s difficult to convince significant numbers of Amish to vote when their cultural norms and general belief system are aligned against the idea of voting. But that doesn’t stop people from trying.
Who votes among the Amish?
So in the limited cases when they do vote, who typically votes among the Amish?
In the majority of cases, it’s men voting among the Amish (though Amish women can vote in theory, and some do). When it comes to an “Amish voter profile”, these Amish voters tend to be younger Amish men involved in business. They would generally be in the more progressive and larger communities. Donald Kraybill notes that in the Lancaster County, Pennsylvania community, “Those who vote tend to be younger businessmen with an interest in community affairs” (The Riddle of Amish Culture, Kraybill p 275).
If there’s an issue of local interest – like voting on zoning issues, for example, where the outcome of the vote can directly impact how their communities, farms, and businesses can develop, they’re going to be more likely to vote in those types of elections than in the larger national ones.
How do Amish vote without photo ID?
You may have heard that Amish don’t like to have their photos taken, due to religious objections. So how do they vote if they don’t have a photo ID?
If an Amish person doesn’t have a photo ID, they may be able to provide alternative identification. This process can vary based on the state and jurisdiction. To take the example of Ohio, an Amish person who objects to photo identification would complete an Affidavit of Religious Objection form. This will include the last four digits of their Social Security number along with their name and signature. The elections board then verifies that the person in fact has no photo ID and the vote is counted.
States with significant Amish populations or other groups with religious objections to photos typically make provisions for non-photo IDs as well, which can be used for voting. For example, Virginia, a state with a growing Amish population, passed legislation providing for such non-photo IDs in 2019.
However, the size of this issue may be overblown. That’s because it’s a misconception that all Amish don’t have photo identification. Some Amish accept this type of photography, which is intended for a practical purpose (personal identification).
These will tend to be the more progressive Amish people. And the Amish who actually do vote, tend to be among the more progressive as well. So in some, or even many cases, Amish who wish to vote may actually already possess a photo ID. For those who do not, there are ways to vote without it depending on the state, including using non-photo identification.
Do Amish follow politics?
There’s one thing you may still be wondering – just how do Amish people learn about elections and political issues? Aren’t they isolated from the world? Well, many Amish people certainly read the newspaper (some get a local daily paper), and some keep up with politics. In fact, some have quite strong opinions on political matters – even if they don’t end up voting themselves.
Amish people may also hear, for example, talk radio when they are traveling in a car driven by a non-Amish driver or employee. That time in the vehicle going back-and-forth between home and a jobsite is a chance where they discuss politics, hear the news, and hear the opinions of their non-Amish coworkers or drivers.
So the Amish can be influenced as well by the non-Amish individuals in their communities and work or social circles – just like any people.
The elusive Amish vote
Though voting is not common among the Amish, some Amish follow political news and many have and share opinions on politics and politicians. It’s fairly well-known that they tend to support conservative values. This, plus the fact that there are large Amish populations in two historical swing states – Pennsylvania and Ohio – has meant they have drawn interest from political operatives every two to four years. However, while some elections have seen varied Amish turnout, Amish voting has never approached anything near national levels – and it’s unlikely to ever do so.
However, this won’t necessarily prevent politicians and their helpers from seeking the Amish vote. Especially when it comes to presidential politics, their large and growing presence in two of the most important swing states, I believe will continue to entice attempts to get out the Amish vote in future elections.
But I don’t expect that you’re going to see much dramatic change when it comes to what potential percentage of Amish will actually vote. That noted, you will have a larger and a larger potential voter population among the Amish in those states, due to the very high Amish growth rate. So it may continue to be worth the effort to try to get the Amish to the polls.
The Amish & Government
A look at some related topics: the Amish relationship to the government and civic society is not as straightforward as it is for most non-Amish people. As with voting, here are several more areas where Amish ways sometimes differ with those of non-Amish society.
The Amish & Taxes
Do the Amish pay taxes? The short answer is yes – for the most part, they do. However there are some exceptions (Social Security is the main one). Do they ever accept government assistance? Generally no, though there have been exceptions there as well. Read more on the Amish & taxes.
The Amish & the Military
Do Amish serve in the armed forces, or on police forces? Due to their religious beliefs in nonresistance, rooted in Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, the Amish do not endorse using force against other humans. This also means they do not initiate lawsuits (legal force) against others. Nonresistance (or non-resistance) is similar to, but not the same as, pacifism. More on the Amish & nonresistance.
The Amish & Photo ID
Do the Amish use photo identification? Generally, Amish do not permit or encourage posed photography. This can prevent them from acquiring a photo ID. So when it comes to situations where they need identification (voting, international travel, etc.), they can run into problems. Some states have made allowances for this. Some Amish do not have a problem with photo IDs. More on the Amish and photography.
Do Amish follow the law?
For the most part, Amish are a law-abiding, low-crime population. When Amish individuals or communities do conflict with the law, it tends to draw extra attention, in part due to the nature of the Amish as a community so unlike mainstream society. Certain Amish groups have violated laws concerning safety triangles on buggies (Kentucky 2011), smoke detectors in homes (Wisconsin 2015), and sales of raw milk (Pennsylvania 2012), to name a few.
One noteworthy, precedent-setting conflict concerned schooling, which eventually led to the landmark Wisconsin v. Yoder Supreme Court decision (1972) which enabled Amish to limit their children’s formal education to eight grades. Amish people have also certainly broken the law on an individual level. The most publicized cases have concerned abuse within families and communities.
Are the Amish patriotic?
The Amish do not display the American flag, nor do they recite the Pledge of Allegiance in their schools. Amish do appreciate the freedoms, religious and otherwise, allowed them in the United States (as well as Canada). As a people with Two Kingdoms beliefs (as detailed above), they focus more on the heavenly kingdom that they hope to attain.
That noted, Amish people are individuals, and you might come across Amish who more eagerly express patriotic sentiments. Additionally, in some communities Amish attend Independence Day celebrations, to take one example.
For further information, see:
The Riddle of Amish Culture, Donald B. Kraybill
An Amish Paradox: Diversity and Change in the World’s Largest Amish Community, Charles E. Hurst and David L. McConnell
Kraybill, Donald B., and Kyle C. Kopko, “Bush Fever: Amish and Old Order Mennonites in the 2004 Election.” Mennonite Quarterly Review 81 (April 2007): 165-205.
“Amish PAC returns for 2018 election as new study reveals its impact in 2016”, Lancaster Online, Sam Janesch, Sep 22, 2018