Political junkies sifting through exit polls in the hours and days after November’s election concluded that a narrow majority of Catholics backed Republican Donald J. Trump for president, despite concern from some Catholic leaders, including Pope Francis, over some of the political neophyte’s proposals.
But new data from a nonpartisan political science organization say, “not so fast.”
According to an analysis of American National Election Studies data by a political scientist at Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, Catholic voters narrowly went for Democrat Hillary Clinton, 48 percent to 45 percent. Among Hispanic Catholics, Mrs. Clinton cleaned up handily, winning by more than 50 points.
2016 ANES data, out today, indicates Catholics voted for Clinton 48% & Trump 45%. Final exit polls had estimated Trump 50% & Clinton 46%. pic.twitter.com/GqV8dcJjiI— CARA (@caracatholic) March 31, 2017
The New York Times, for example, posted early exit-poll results that found Mr. Trump won 52 percent of the Catholic vote to Mrs. Clinton’s 45 percent. Likewise, CNN reported that Mr. Trump captured 50 percent of Catholic voters compared with 46 percent for Mrs. Clinton. Neither reported the differences between Hispanic and non-Hispanic Catholics.
Mark Gray, the director of polling at CARA who analyzed the A.N.E.S. data for a forthcoming book, said in an interview with America that in his view, the Catholic vote in the 2016 election was more or less split.
“I don’t think we will ever really definitively know,” Mr. Gray said, suggesting that in the end the Catholic vote may have been a “toss up” between the two candidates.
Older Catholics overwhelmingly went for Mr. Trump, while younger Catholics chose Hillary Clinton.
He said that the A.N.E.S. data is more reliable than exit polls because political scientists collect it both before and after the election, and because individuals who work on exit polls often lack expertise in scientific polling. (A 2014 article in the New York Times Upshot blog offers a longer explanation about the limitations of exit polls.)
One area where exit polls generally matched the newly released data is how Catholic voters broke down along age, geography, race and ethnicity.
For example, Mr. Gray’s analysis found that older Catholics overwhelmingly went for Mr. Trump, while younger Catholics chose Hillary Clinton. Those in the middle were more evenly split.
Digging through new American National Election Study (ANES). Very distinct differences in Catholic voting in 2016 by generation: pic.twitter.com/GyissTLUZl— CARA (@caracatholic) April 1, 2017
Geographically, Mr. Trump earned the support of Catholic voters in the Northeast and Midwest, while the two candidates split Catholics in the South. Mrs. Clinton beat out Mr. Trump among Catholics in the West, 64 percent to 25 percent.
Regional Divides: Catholics in the Northeast and Midwest voted for Trump. It was a toss up in the South and Clinton had a huge lead in West. pic.twitter.com/EnbiX42lB3— CARA (@caracatholic) April 3, 2017
This breakdown does not necessarily mean that Catholics of all backgrounds in the South and West were more open to Mrs. Clinton. Rather, those regions are home to larger Hispanic Catholic populations.According to a 2014 analysis by the Pew Research Center, 57 percent of Catholics living in the West are Hispanic. In the Northeast and Midwest, by contrast, more than 75 percent of Catholics are non-Hispanic whites.
Mr. Trump fared well among white Catholics, who backed him nationwide 56 percent to 37 percent, according to the A.N.E.S. data. The reverse was true among Hispanic Catholics, the fastest growing demographic in the U.S. church, who backed Mrs. Clinton 74 percent to 19 percent.
Big differences in choices at the ballot box in 2016 among Catholics by race and ethnicity: pic.twitter.com/qP6QSdKRwe— CARA (@caracatholic) April 5, 2017
Mr. Gray downplayed the notion of a unified Catholic vote, saying that, like other Americans, Catholics tend to vote based on party preference.
“Catholics, like all other Americans who develop partisanship, gravitate toward the issues within their party that are consistent with the Catholic Church,” he said.
“So if you’re a Democrat and a Catholic, you may strongly emphasize Pope Francis’ statements about climate change or the preferential option for the poor,” he continued. “If you are a Republican and a Catholic, life issues may be the most important to you.”
"Catholics gravitate toward the issues within their party that are consistent with the Catholic Church.”
In the run-up to the election, many Catholic bishops condemned both candidates, albeit for different reasons. Some bishops took issue with Mrs. Clinton’s strong support for abortion rights, while others condemned Mr. Trump’s promise to crack down on immigrants and build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Even Pope Francis seemed to weigh in on the U.S. election. In February 2016, as Mr. Trump sought the G.O.P. nomination, Francis answered a reporter’s question about the proposed wall by saying that individuals who seek to build walls and not bridges are not Christian.
Then, in a speech just days before the election, the pope, without mentioning the United States explicitly, urged individuals not to succumb to a politics of “fear.”
In the end, Mr. Gray said, he believes loyalty to party ultimately drove many Catholic voters.
“Party comes first for many Catholics and they then try to make that fit within their faith. I don’t mean that in a way that being a Democrat or being a Republican is more important to them than being Catholic,” he said. “But I mean that at the ballot box, partisanship trumps their faith when they make their choice. It should be a difficult choice for any Catholic to vote because no candidate, no party really stands for what the church stands for.”