The Catholic Vote: Big Changes in Four Years

The notion that Catholics and evangelical Christians could be forged into a singular political force certainly takes a hit in a new Pew poll that finds them going in distinctly opposite directions in this year's presidential race. Another vanishing factor in this year's presidential race is the idea that there is a significant divide between Catholics who attend Mass weekly -- and are supposedly more conservative and loyal to the bishops' agenda -- and those who don't.

In a poll released this week, Pew finds that white evangelical Christians favor Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by a startling 78 percent to 17 percent. Trump is 5 points ahead of where Mitt Romney was at this point in the 2012 campaign. Catholics favor Clinton over Trump, 56 percent to 39 percent. Clinton is 7 points ahead of where Barack Obama was at this point of the 2012 campaign. (Trump leads among non-Hispanic white Catholics, 50-46; Clinton leads among Hispanic Catholics, 77-16.)

In June 2012, Romney led Obama among weekly churchgoers -- narrowly among Catholics, 48-45. He trailed Obama among Catholics who attended less often. There is a significant shift in the 2016 race. Catholics who attend Mass weekly strongly favor Clinton over Trump (57-38). So do those who attend less often (56-40). While Trump holds a 4-point lead among white Catholics., it appears that Latino Catholics are taking the Catholic vote with them.

Pew has identified an amazing shift in the Catholic vote, which is often described as a swing vote. Pope Francis has to be considered as a possible factor: In 2012, before his papacy, many Catholic bishops were essentially campaigning against Obama by emphasizing issues such as religious freedom and abortion. This time, we've had the pope and the presumed Republican nominee embroiled in a controversy over immigration.  Another factor is the candidate: Trump's  nasty, nativist campaign seems to have  triggered a negative response in ta significant bloc of Catholic voters who might otherwise have favored a Republican. George W. Bush's "compassionate conservatism" appealed to many Catholic voters.  The Trump campaign is neither.

The caveat here is that the poll was taken (June 15-26) before the results of the FBI investigation of Clinton and her emails was announced.  It shows Clinton leading overall 51-42. Some more recent polls have shown a tightened race.

 

 

 

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

Also by this author
Open to Opposition

Please email comments to letters@commonwealmagazine.org and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Must Reads

Politics
Culture
Collections