The National Catholic Review

Next Tuesday’s presidential primaries include Illinois, the biggest state to vote so far that’s at least one-quarter Catholic. The returns from Chicago and its suburbs will help to show whether there’s a straight line from the fabled “Reagan Democrats” of the 1980s, largely Catholic and working-class, to the Republicans voting for Donald J. Trump this election cycle.

“Catholic Trumpism” will certainly get more scrutiny if the front-runner secures the Republican nomination with help from big wins in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wisconsin, the remaining states with large non-Hispanic Catholic populations. There is a “consensus among conservative Catholics” for Mr. Trump, writes Massimo Faggioli in the Italian version of the Huffington Post. “The xenophobic and nationalist candidate has earned the vote of a majority of Catholic Republicans, either unaware or uninterested in the fact that Pope Francis said, just three weeks ago during his return flight from Mexico, that Trump's message ‘is not Christian.’”

So far Mr. Trump has run best, if you look at his share of the combined Democratic and Republican votes, in some of the least Catholic areas of the country. By this measure, his strongest states so far have been Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, where the Catholic population is estimated to be less than 10 percent. He’s also won caucuses in Kentucky—which, along with Tennessee, turned against the Democrats when the party nominated both John F. Kennedy in 1960 and Barack Obama in 2008.

But Mr. Trump has also received almost half the Republican vote in Massachusetts, one of the two or three most Catholic states, and in Macomb County, Mich., long considered a bellwether for the working-class Catholic vote. We have mostly geographic data to work with because few exit polls have looked at religion other than dividing the electorate into evangelical and non-evangelical categories. The CNN poll in Massachusetts estimated that 50 percent of Republican voters were Catholic and that 53 percent of those voted Mr. Trump (versus 49 percent of all Republican voters). But it doesn’t have comparable data for the Democratic primary, which attracted about twice as many voters, so we don’t know how he fared there among Catholics against Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

The Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study suggests fertile ground for Mr. Trump among Massachusetts Catholics: 59 percent favored “smaller government, fewer services” versus 36 percent for “bigger government, more services,” and 52 percent said government aid to the poor “does more harm than good.” My guess is that the respondents do not consider Social Security or Medicare or veterans’ benefits to be aid to the poor (ask your older relatives if you doubt this), so they would be amenable to Mr. Trump’s argument that government spending can be cut substantially by ending “waste, fraud and abuse.” The survey also found that 62 percent favored legal abortion “in all/most cases” and 64 percent favored same-sex marriage—which suggests they might be more comfortable with Mr. Trump, who doesn’t seem to have much interest in these issues, than with the more culturally conservative Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio. Pew did not research views on waterboarding or killing the families of terrorists, so we can only guess how Mr. Trump’s advocacy of both plays among Catholics.

There’s a different story in the late primary state of California, where the Pew numbers indicate that Catholics are more liberal on the role of government (60 percent support “bigger government, more services”) and also more pro-life (only 46 percent said abortion should be legal “in most/all cases”). Hispanics make up a much bigger share of the Catholic population there and in Florida, which also votes this Tuesday (and where Mr. Rubio is counting on Hispanics and Cuban-Americans in particular to save his political career). California Catholics are probably less receptive to Mr. Trump’s vague promises to reduce the size of government, and certainly less likely to be favorable toward his harsh views against immigration. But few of them are likely to vote in the Republican primary in California, so they would be of little help to any movement to stop Mr. Trump from getting his party’s nomination.


Tim O'Leary | 3/18/2016 - 4:08pm

I agree with J Cosgrove's comment below that Marco Rubio's concession speech was great. In fact, I think it was exceptionallyl good, showing remarkable insight into what make's American special. Here are some excerpts:

"America needs a vibrant conservative movement, but one that’s built on principles and ideas, not on fear, not on anger, not on preying on people’s frustrations. A conservative movement that believes in the principles of our Constitution, that protects our rights and limits the power of government. A conservative movement committed to the cause of free enterprise, the only economic model where everyone can climb without anyone falling. A conservative movement that believes in a strong national defense and a conservative movement that believes in the strong Judeo-Christian values that are the formation of our nation."

"But after tonight it is clear that while we are on the right side, this year, we will not be on the winning side. I take great comfort in the ancient words which teach us that in their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. And so yet, while this may not have been the year for a hopeful and optimistic message about our future, I still remain hopeful and optimistic about America."

"And so while it is not God's plan that I be president in 2016 or maybe ever, and while today my campaign is suspended, the fact that I have even come this far is evidence of how special America truly is, and all the reason more why we must do all we can to ensure that this nation remains a special place.
I ask the American people: Do not give in to the fear. Do not give in to the frustration. We can disagree about public policy, we can disagree about it vibrantly, passionately. But we are a hopeful people, and we have every right to be hopeful. For we in this nation are the descendants of go-getters. In our veins runs the blood of people who gave it all up so we would have the chances they never did. We are all the descendants of someone who made our future the purpose of their lives. We are the descendants of pilgrims. We are the descendants of settlers. We are the descendants of men and women that headed westward in the Great Plains not knowing what awaited them. We are the descendants of slaves who overcame that horrible institution to stake their claim in the American Dream. We are the descendants of immigrants and exiles who knew and believed that they were destined for more, and that there was only one place on earth where that was possible. This is who we are, and let us fight to ensure that this is who we remain. For if we lose that about our country, we will still be rich and we will still be powerful, but we will no longer be special."

"And I want to leave with an expression of gratitude to God in whose hands all things lie. He has a plan for every one of our lives. Everything that comes from God is good. God is perfect. God makes no mistakes. And he has things planned for all of us. And we await eagerly to see what lies ahead. And so I leave tonight with one final prayer, and I use the words of King David because I remain grateful to God: 'Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth...1 Chronicles 29:11-12 (NASB translation)'"

"May God strengthen our people. May God strengthen our nation. May God strengthen the conservative movement. May God strengthen the Republican Party. May God strengthen our eventual nominee. And may God always bless and strengthen this great nation, the United States of America."

A clarification, Rubio outdid Trump in certain segments of the voters in Florida - he received 63% of the Cuban vote (to Trump's 17%), 45% of all non-whites (Trump got 27%) and he did as well as Trump with those with post-grad education. He still lost women 33% (to Trump's 40%).

J Cosgrove | 3/18/2016 - 10:19am

For an insightful analysis of the Trump phenomena see

by Victor Davis Hanson. Hanson is a self employed writer, farmer who also is on the faculty at Stanford University. He spends part of his week in Palo Alto and part of it in the San Joaquin valley where he owns a farm.

After reading this it made me think of a close friend who was born in Minnesota but raised in South America and then educated in the US for high school and college. After a few years working in the US, she went back to South America because she felt more comfortable there. She had to return to the US because local politics made it difficult for an American to live where she was brought up. She and her son went to Fresno and stayed just 18 months till she felt she had to leave there. Her son was getting beat up routinely because he would not join the gangs of the other kids in the schools. He was 8 years old.

Tim O'Leary | 3/18/2016 - 2:25pm

J - I did read the articles you linked to by VDH and CM. They are excellent and indeed point to chronic and growing problems in our society and a decline in specifically American virtues. But, they do not explain why Trump has the support of the Jewish doctor or the 48% of those Floridians making >$100k a year, or the 53% of College Grads.

Trump is not being so heavily opposed for ideological reasons, since he is all over the map. His "flexibility" means that everyone can agree with Trump on some position he has had, at some point in time. He is a NY populist street brawler who will adjust his principles and policies at a whim. One example: on ISIS, he has 1) opposed any US involvement, suggesting we can pick up the pieces after they all kill each other, 2) take the Iraqi oil to pay for past expenses there, 3) leave the fighting to the Russians, 4) go after the terrorist families, 5) use something "way worse than waterboarding", 6) now sending 30,000 ground troops. He has said his best military adviser is his own brain. VDH is right that his supporters seem not to care for all this inconsistency and reversals. It is sufficient for them that he expresses their anger and disdain for traditional and conventional political procedures, and they overlook his incivility. It seems to matter little that he will not complete any of his supposed promises and that they will get Hillary Clinton as the most likely result, which will make them even more angry. Not smart at all!

I oppose him not only for his policies, but because his personal character and public past show him wholly unfit to hold the Presidential office. As Heather MacDonald of National Review wrote today "Trump has achieved a level of vicious, personal invective, and wildly irresponsible public pronouncements that is unprecedented in recent memory. And I speak as someone who supports his immigration positions 100 percent and who takes a fiendish delight in his scourging of the Republican establishment and its open-borders ideology. But some things are more important than a stated willingness to enforce the immigration laws (especially when an alternative candidate exists who is equally committed to immigration enforcement), and the maintenance of civilized society is one of them. Ironically, Trump occasionally positions himself as the law-and-order candidate. But his recent threat of riots disqualifies him from that position and shows him to be clueless about the fragility of civil order and the profound responsibilities of a leader for maintaining that order. His self-indulgent, undisciplined pronouncements should disqualify him from the presidency as well."

Charles Erlinger | 3/18/2016 - 8:47am

I think that I have waited fairly patiently for some added value to appear in this column, but I guess I'll have to wait some more. Summarizing polls is a pretty soft gig, but any sophomore could do it.

J Cosgrove | 3/18/2016 - 9:57am

Summarizing polls is a pretty soft gig, but any sophomore could do it.

Probably a better name for this column is "Sophomoric Wisdom"

My question is how does America, the magazine, maintain a non-profit status since it is obviously a political magazine?

J Cosgrove | 3/17/2016 - 5:26pm

Maybe the author should be clear on what policies that Trump endorses are not supported by Catholic dogma so should be anathema to Catholics. Not what the press has interpreted his comments to mean or is hyperbole. Certainly restricting immigration is not against Catholic dogma. We did it for 40 years and nobody made a peep. Certainly restricting immigration to those legally accepted is not against Catholic dogma. Certainly limiting access to the country to those who may not be interested in what the country has traditionally been for is not against Catholic dogma.

My problem with Trump is that he is a liberal Democrat who has taken over the Republican nominating process through popularity and charisma. He seems to have no ideology except to say he has New York values which he defines as liberal on abortion. So it will be hard to know how he will try to govern if he can govern at all. He is obviously changes his mind on what he supposedly believes. It would be interesting to see how he would work with Congress if he ever got elected.

The country is in a downward spiral, probably outside the capability of anyone to stop. Which is what is driving the discontent with a lot of people. The United States that came out of World War II is gone. Read Charles Murray's benign description of what happened.

Republicans Catholics have failed to vote for the one very Catholic candidate who is also very conservative, namely Marco Rubeo. Rubeo has gotten praise for his gracious and very inspiring speech after Tuesday's Florida's primary which he also gave in Spanish. Apparently even Cuban American Catholics voted for Trump. Here is his concession speech:

Sandi Sinor | 3/14/2016 - 2:44pm

The exit polls are not reliable indicators as far as determining the religious belief and practice of voters (not just their nominal religious background). But the fact remains that some Catholics are voting for Trump. How sad that so many who call themselves Catholic, that so many who call themselves christian, support a man who puts forth a value system in both his personal life and in his political campaign that is the antithesis of christian teaching.

Tim O'Leary | 3/18/2016 - 9:59am

Sandi - I agree that exit polls do not evaluate religion adequately, apart from the simplistic “are you a born-again or evangelical Christian” – no questions regarding Catholicism, nominal or observant. But, it is even more surprising that, in Florida, 40% women, 26% of Hispanics & 17% Cubans voted for Trump, when none should have done so. The fact that women are just 8% points below self-identifying-evangelicals in voting for Trump is truly amazing, and must mean they do not know or care about his personal attitudes to them.

J Cosgrove | 3/18/2016 - 10:51am


You should read the Hanson article I referenced above. It explains a lot:

I had a doctor's appointment this morning and my Jewish doctor is voting for Trump. He is one of the most rational educated persons you could find. He said Trump's poll numbers with Republicans in NY is 65%. A lot of these will be Catholics. My problem with Trump is that I believe he will not fix anything and a vote for Trump in the primaries is essentially a vote for a Democrat in the national election.

Beth Cioffoletti | 3/12/2016 - 9:14am

Seems the decades long alliance between the USCB and the Republican party created some confusion.

William Rydberg | 3/11/2016 - 5:10pm

Does America Magazine actually believe this article, it might be "content filler" in my opinion.

Time and again, it's a fact that Catholics do not vote as a block.

What about Catholics who are on all sides of Abortion, Planned Parenthood, Goverment Medicare, single-pay or or not. There's Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi on one side and Speaker Paul Ryan on the other.

My guess is that if you went back to the Cuban roots of Senator Mr Rubio and Senator Mr Cruz, you would find Catholics in the family tree. I forgot to mention Vice President Biden, a Catholic with other views than Mr Speaker Ryan.

Opponents of Catholic teaching have exploited this for years, just ask the USCCB.

Come on America GET REAL...

Just my opinion...

Nicholas Clifford | 3/16/2016 - 4:55pm

Though not a political expert, and something of an agnostic on the question of "political science," I'd be inclined to agree with Mr. Rydberg. I think the media often make too much of religion as a political factor, while at the same time, when the occasion suits, denying its relevance. Religious affiliation too often becomes an easy shorthand for all sorts of other things. Thus Ireland's Troubles can be "explained" as Catholic v. Protestant, Middle Eastern problems as Sunni v. Shia (or Islamic v. Jewish, in that particular case) and so on. It saves us from having to think about other factors that might be at play, and the "explanation" is of little use.
Though all sorts of wacky things can be written and said about the "Catholic vote," I think it's actually our Protestant Evangelical brethren who suffer the most from this kind of easy taxonomy. How many writers in the mainstream media do you think could actually explain the difference between evangelicals and fundamentalists? Or even be aware that there might be a difference? And yet the punditocracy presumes to generalize about such matters without having much of an understanding of them.

It's rather the same way that many people like to see religion as the chief cause of wars and violence, and think they've explained something if they bring in religious difference. Yet if they would stop to think, they might realize that it's rather difficult to see the strike on Pearl Harbor primarily as an action undertaken by Buddhist Japan against Christian America; or the onset of World War II in Europe as coming from the invasion of Lutheran-majority Germany into Catholic Poland. And so on, back into history. Even into the so-called "wars of religion."

Someone on the radio as few days ago suggested that when we talk about the "evangelical vote" we should realize we're talking about an ethnic and perhaps class reality, rather than religious. Fine -- until of course you have to deal with African-American Evangelicals. And others who don't fit the WASP mold.

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