G.O.P. frontrunner Donald Trump may have (another) Catholic problem on his hands.
A few months after Donald Trump lashed out at Pope Francis over their differing stances on immigration, a new poll finds that most U.S. Catholics support the Republican presumptive nominee’s rival for the White House, Democrat Hillary Clinton, by almost 20 percentage points.
More than half of American Catholics—56 percent—support Clinton, according to a Pew Research Center poll released on July 13, with just 39 percent backing Trump. (Contrast that to this point in the 2012 matchup between President Barack Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney, when Catholics were more evenly split. Exit polls from 2012 found that, ultimately, 50 percent of Catholics voted for Obama and 48 percent for Romney.)
But when broken down by race, Trump does better, at least among white Catholics. Half say they support Trump, with 46 percent of white Catholics prefering Clinton. Hispanic Catholics, on the other hand, overwhelmingly back Clinton: 77 percent to 16 percent. Interestingly, Clinton also beats Trump when it comes to Catholics who attend Mass each week, with the former secretary of state besting Trump 57 percent to 38 percent.
It’s possible that Trump can trace his shortcomings with Catholic voters to a February dust up with Pope Francis over the issue of immigration.
Just days before the pope celebrated a huge open-air Mass along the U.S.-Mexico border, where Francis prayed for those who died trying to cross illegally into the United States, Trump called the pope “a very political person.” He suggested Mexican politicians were using the pope to advance their own agendas.
“I don’t think he understands the danger of the open border that we have with Mexico. I think Mexico got him to do it because they want to keep the border just the way it is,” Trump said at the time. “They’re making a fortune and we’re losing.”
Though the United States and Mexico do not share an open border—miles of it are fenced off or patrolled by federal agents—Trump has repeatedly promised to build a wall should he be elected.
When asked about Trump’s views on his flight home from Mexico, Francis said that people who advocate building walls instead of bridges are not Christian.
Trump’s campaign interpreted this statement as criticism and called it “disgraceful.” The Vatican later clarified that Francis was not speaking about a specific candidate, which Trump interpreted as an apology.
Closer to home, several U.S. bishops have criticized Trump, often implicitly, for what they see as increasingly hostile language toward immigrants. Catholic bishops have consistently voiced support for comprehensive immigration reform that keeps families together regardless of legal status.
Dylan Corbett, who runs the Hope Border Institute in El Paso, Tex., said he isn’t surprised Hispanics have such an aversion for Trump, and pointed out that the demographic is growing along border states. “Border communities are well versed in the politics of wall-building, xenophobia and the criminalization of migrant families,” he told America. “There is a visceral reaction against the politics of division and hatred, and anyone who would seek the highest office in the land would do well to take note.”
The Pew poll found that Catholics are more or less in line with the rest of the United States when it comes to the issues they consider “very important” as they decide whom to support, with the economy, health care, terrorism and immigration leading the list.
Culture war issues, including abortion, same-sex marriage and the treatment of L.G.B.T. people, rank at the bottom of the list for Catholics, with fewer than half saying they are “very important.”
When it comes to the importance of a president having strong religious beliefs, about 70 percent of Catholics agree that this is a necessary trait, down from 76 percent in 2008. That’s in line with the rest of the country, as is the dip in the number of Catholics who believe houses of worship play an important role in addressing social problems.
In 2008, 79 percent of Catholics believed churches, synagogues and mosques contributed “a great deal” toward solving social problems, whereas just 63 percent of Catholics believe that today.
Just under half of all Catholics want their church “to express views on social/political matters,” and less than a third think their leaders should endorse specific candidates. (The church forbids its ordained leaders from endorsing specific candidates.)
Among people of other faiths, Trump is performing especially well with white evangelical Christians, of whom 78 percent support him, to Clinton’s 17 percent. Black Protestants, however, strongly favor Clinton, 89 percent to 8 percent.
Clinton is also leading among those with no attachment to religion, those labeled the “nones,” 67 percent to 23 percent.
The findings were based on telephone interviews conducted June 15-26, 2016, with 2,245 adults in all 50 states.