List: Taking the pulse of Catholic voters

President Donald Trump speaks at the Ford’s Theatre Annual Gala, on June 2, in Washington. Mr. Trump’s approval ratings among U.S. Catholics closely mirror those among all U.S. voters—but there are major differences between white and Hispanic Catholics.(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)President Donald Trump speaks at the Ford’s Theatre Annual Gala, on June 2, in Washington. Mr. Trump’s approval ratings among U.S. Catholics closely mirror those among all U.S. voters—but there are major differences between white and Hispanic Catholics.(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The “Catholic vote” is often described as a bellwether in U.S. politics, falling between left and right extremes and closely mirroring overall public opinion. There is much truth to this characterization, but there is also danger in oversimplification. Referring to the Catholic vote as a bloc also erases some persistent differences between those who attend Mass weekly and occasional churchgoers, and between Hispanic and non-Hispanic Catholics.

There is conflicting evidence over whether a presidential candidate “must” win the Catholic vote to get to the White House; in close elections, it can be impossible to determine for sure who won more Catholic votes.

Advertisement
Source: American National Election Studies

In its analysis of the 2016 election, the nonpartisan group American National Election Studies found that the overall Catholic vote almost exactly matched the national population in giving the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, a three-point lead in the popular vote. But exit polls had earlier suggested that Republican Donald Trump had won the Catholic vote by either seven points or four points.

Polls agree that white non-Hispanic Catholics voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Trump and Hispanic Catholics voted for Ms. Clinton by an even bigger margin. Is this proof that Hispanic Catholics are turned off by the Republican Party’s policies on immigration—or is the gap also attributable to Hispanic Catholics being more likely to live in large cities and in the West, where the Democratic Party is stronger overall?

Because each poll, and each pollster, has its idiosyncrasies (different sample sizes and margins of error, different ways of asking for religious affiliation, etc.), survey results cannot always be easily compared with each other. A poll with strikingly different results from one taken three months earlier may not indicate a trend at all, but rather different polling methodologies.

Below are summaries of recent polls that compare Catholic voters with the overall U.S. population, and explanations of why they may or may not be important.

[Want to discuss politics with other America readers? Join our Facebook discussion group, moderated by America’s writers and editors.]


Election 2020

May 21, 2019, Quinnipiac poll: Catholics line up almost precisely with the overall electorate, 55 percent “definitely” will not vote to re-elect President Trump.

A Quinnipiac University poll of 1,078 U.S. voters found that a solid majority of 54 percent will “definitely not” vote to re-elect Donald Trump as president next year, close to the 52 percent who said the same in a Quinnipiac poll released on April 30. There was no significant difference between Catholic voters (55 percent saying “definitely not,” almost the same percentage who voted against him in 2016) and the overall poll sample. Among voters who had no religious affiliation, 70 percent said they would definitely not vote for Mr. Trump, but only 24 percent of white evangelical Protestants said the same.

Source: Quinnipiac University poll

The poll did not distinguish between white and Hispanic Catholics; however, 64 percent of Hispanics overall said “definitely not,” compared with 49 percent of white non-Hispanics.

Among all respondents who attend weekly religious services, 46 percent said they would definitely not vote for Mr. Trump and 41 percent said they definitely would. Among those who attend religious services less frequently or not at all, Mr. Trump fared worse, with 58 percent opposing and 28 percent supporting the president.

Are the most reliable churchgoers also the most informed about current events? For whatever reason, there was a similar pattern here, with 51 percent of those who claim they follow campaign news “a lot” saying they will definitely vote against Mr. Trump—but 61 percent of those paying little or no attention to campaign news saying the same.

On May 21, President Trump was at an overall disapproval rating of 53.9 percent in RealClearPolitics’s average of recent polls.


Approval ratings for President Trump

Source: Pew Research Center.  (Because of the small sample size of black Protestants in the latest poll, the figure for that group is from June 2018 data.)

March 18, 2019, Pew Research Center poll: White evangelicals remain supportive, but white Catholics are more ambivalent about President Trump.

White evangelical Protestants form the bedrock of support for Donald Trump, with 69 percent approving his performance as president, according to a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in January. Mr. Trump had a 50 percent approval rating among all Protestants, 36 percent among all Catholics, 20 percent among the religiously unaffiliated and 12 percent among black Protestants.

America’s Michael O’Loughlin reported on the results in greater detail:

When broken down by white and non-white Catholics, the numbers tell a different story.

Support for Mr. Trump among white Catholics has generally hovered around 50 percent since the early days of his presidency, according to Pew, with a high of 55 percent in April 2017 and again in May 2018 and a low of 36 percent in December 2017. Greg Smith, associate director of research at Pew Research Center, told America that support for Mr. Trump from white Catholics has been “pretty consistently within that band.”

The latest survey, conducted in January, found that 44 percent of white Catholics approve of Mr. Trump’s job performance.

Mr. Trump’s support among non-white Catholics is far lower compared to white Catholics.

The January survey found that 26 percent of non-white Catholics approve of the president’s job performance, up from 13 percent in February 2017.

In recent months, the president has boasted that his support from Hispanic Americans has been growing, crediting his continued efforts to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Experts have cast doubt on that claim, but they say that his support continues to hover around the 29 percent of the Hispanic vote that Mr. Trump won in the 2016 election.

The Quinnipiac poll released on May 21 (see above) did not break out data for white and Hispanic Catholics, but it found that Mr. Trump had an approval rating of 28 percent among Hispanic voters, very close to the 26 percent support among non-white Catholics that Pew reported.

On March 18, the day the Pew study was released, President Trump was at an overall approval rating of 42.6 percent in RealClearPolitics’s average of recent polls.


Partisanship and views on major issues

Jan. 24, 2019, Pew Research Center poll: Catholics are generally as partisan as the rest of U.S. voters.

A Pew Research Center survey tested the idea that fidelity to church teaching would make U.S. Catholics less loyal to the Democratic and Republican parties—and found little evidence for the idea. According to the poll, conducted last year, Catholic Democrats were somewhat more pro-life than other party members: only 64 percent of Catholic Democrats agreed that abortion should be legal in “all or most cases,” compared with 76 percent of all Democrats. But only 55 percent of Catholic Republicans agreed that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, exactly the same as the 55 percent among all Republicans who took that position.

Source: Pew Research Center

On other issues, however, Catholics tended to follow their party lines. For example, 64 percent of Catholic Democrats said that “government aid to the poor does more good than harm,” compared with 70 percent of all Democrats. At the same time, 67 percent of Catholic Republicans said that government aid does more harm (by making people “dependent” on assistance), close to the 69 percent of all Republicans who said the same.

Similarly, 91 percent of Catholic Democrats and 93 percent of all Democrats opposed expanding the border wall between the United States and Mexico; 81 percent of Catholic Republicans and 82 percent of all Republicans supported an expansion of the wall.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
J Cosgrove
2 months 2 weeks ago

Is identification as a Catholic a meaningful categorization? I used to know what it meant but don't think it means anything homogeneous anymore and thus, is not meaningful.

Michael Bindner
2 months 2 weeks ago

The key question for the White Catholic vote us how abortion was handled. Clinton played to her base on a partial birth abortion question (how did Trump and the bishops know she would. Could it have been....Putin?). Obama used surrogates to put out the word to Catholic voters that the pro-life movement is and was a GOP scam. Guess who made sure his old boss, Alice Germond, knew to do that? You're welcome.

Charles Erlinger
2 months 2 weeks ago

There is a thing that I remember from a market research case study done many years ago. When the subject of interest was whether polled individuals would be buyers of a particular product with particular features at a given price point, they would give their answers, but when polled after the product had come to market, there was a low correlation of their purchase behavior with their expressed intentions. Improved reliability was sorely needed.

The survey design and execution challenge involved not merely reflecting faithfully the demographic characteristics of the target market as a whole in the identified sample, a quality called representationalness, and insuring an adequate number of poll responses, or sample size. In addition, for this kind of “intentions” polling, question design was of particular importance.

The obvious parallel in political polling involves improving the correlation of pre-election intentions with election day behavior. I assume that in the many years since this sample survey design challenge was addressed, behavioral researchers have acquired the survey question design techniques to meet the challenge. Whether they are always employed is of obvious interest when reading out survey results.

Gabriel Marcella
2 months 2 weeks ago

It would be good to know the relative size of each population group polled. What percentage of the electorate is Catholic, what percentage is fundamentalist Protestant, and the same for Democrats, Republicans, evangelicals, Hispanics. Without such information, the polling statistics leave one guessing. Perhaps they represent broad trends, but they don't give us a clear picture of what is happening. Gallup, for example, reports that Democrats and Republicans are neck and neck in party affiliation, around 30% each. Independents, outdistance both. There is also the question of propensity to vote. Who is more energized to go to the polls? Polling that does not address these questions are at best misleading. Finally is the matter of the electoral college and the weight of various states.

Gabriel Marcella
2 months 2 weeks ago

It would be good to know the relative size of each population group polled. What percentage of the electorate is Catholic, what percentage is fundamentalist Protestant, and the same for Democrats, Republicans, evangelicals, Hispanics. Without such information, the polling statistics leave one guessing. Perhaps they represent broad trends, but they don't give us a clear picture of what is happening. Gallup, for example, reports that Democrats and Republicans are neck and neck in party affiliation, around 30% each. Independents, outdistance both. There is also the question of propensity to vote. Who is more energized to go to the polls? Polling that does not address these questions are at best misleading. Finally is the matter of the electoral college and the weight of various states.

Crystal Watson
2 months 2 weeks ago

Polls show a majority of Catholics are pro-choice. Republican Catholics use abortion as their excuse for voting for Trump, when the real reason is that they agree with his policies of racism, misogyny, and dooming of the poor.

Mike Macrie
2 months 2 weeks ago

That’s an unfair generalization on all Republican Catholics. Sure, I would say that the March for Life Rallies in Washington have become Republican Campaign Rallies and there is some truth in what you say. But there are many Republican Catholics who are just Single Issue Voters on Abortion which does not make them Racist. I know some of them and they are definitely not Racist.

Crystal Watson
2 months 2 weeks ago

Mike, to believe that a Republican and Christian would overlook all the bad stuff Trump has done and continues to do ... putting children in cages (and causing the deaths of some), rolling back environmental protections, having a host of women accuse him of sexual assault (and boasting of grabbing women by the bleep, and paying off a porn star, and cheating on his wife), supporting white supremacists, hiring a bunch of grifters for his cabinet, etc. .... all because they have a deep and abiding interest in other people's embryos and fetuses is just difficult to swallow.

J Cosgrove
2 months 2 weeks ago

The real racist in America are the Democrats. So if you vote for them, you are supporting racism. Also the policies of the conservative, liberty and free market capitalism, have done more for the poor in the world than any liberal policy you can point to. Abortion was not the main reason for voting for Trump, but it was one of many.

Judith Jordan
2 months 2 weeks ago

J Cosgrove--
Please give evidence of your charge that the racists are Democrats.

J Cosgrove
2 months 2 weeks ago

evidence? No problem. The policies that led to dysfunction in the Black community started with the New Deal’s Aid to Dependent Children. At that time single parent black households was about the same as for whites(4%). After this the rate increased till about 20-25% for blacks in the mid1960's. The Great Society programs then increased it to over 70% amongst blacks (about 85% in households under the poverty line.) These are the result of Democratic Party policies not denounced by any Democrats. That is incredibly cynical racism.

J Cosgrove
2 months 2 weeks ago

Some suggested reading: Moynihan Report; Losing Ground by Charles Murray; The Dream and the Nightmare by Myron Magnet; Discrimination and Disparities by Thomas Sowell; False Black Power by Jason Riley;
Two interviews of Thomas Sowell by Uncommon knowledge: https://hvr.co/2MB1SRl and https://hvr.co/2ugDAAk
Interview of Jason Riley by Uncommon knowledge: https://hvr.co/2VMhWmF
A Washington Post article on the Moynihan Report https://wapo.st/2WtKrH9

J Cosgrove
2 months 2 weeks ago

Another factor affecting the black family was the change in immigration policy in 1965. Essentially the new immigration policy let in low skilled Mexican workers who now competed with blacks for the low paying jobs in the economy. Black poverty rates had been falling to this time. But the War on Poverty and the new immigration laws affected black families and black job prospects disproportionately. All are Democratic Party policies but the dysfunctional effects on Blacks are never acknowledged

Chuck Kotlarz
2 months 1 week ago

Mr. Cosgrove, your comments often point out the difference in views between yourself and those expressed in the article and some comments.

Would you perhaps consider a role to be the difference? Foster parent/grandparent for a child from Haiti for example. Take them to the store, on a trip, to the water park or a walk around the neighborhood. Let us know your thoughts.

J Cosgrove
2 months 1 week ago

Would you perhaps consider a role to be the difference? Foster parent/grandparent for a child from Haiti for example. Take them to the store, on a trip, to the water park or a walk around the neighborhood.

Is there a program that does that? I would have no problem doing most of that if there was an opportunity, though foster parent is out. However, we are in the process of moving to New Hampshire about an hour from Boston. The parish we will belong to sponsors a group in Haiti.

Advertisement

The latest from america

People bury a prisoner who was killed during a prison riot in Altamaria, Para state, Brazil, on July 31. Grieving families began to arrive that day at the cemetery of Altamira to mourn some of the 58 inmates killed by a rival gang in a grisly prison riot. (AP Photo/Raimundo Pacco)
Deadly riots regularly occur in the third-largest prison system in the world, reports Eduardo Campos Lima, and Brazilian authorities are restricting the practice of religion rather than address overcrowding, gang activity and other problems.
Eduardo Campos LimaAugust 21, 2019
Love created us to be distinct from itself so that we could choose to love. It will not annihilate us, overwhelm who we are.
Terrance KleinAugust 21, 2019
Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President Ronald Reagan sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty at the White House in Washington Dec. 8 1987. (CNS photo/Reuters)
Without the I.N.F. Treaty, there are no longer any limits on destabilizing intermediate-range weapons. There are also no mechanisms for verification and transparency measures or other confidence-building exchanges among military officials and nuclear arms scientists.
Maryann Cusimano LoveAugust 21, 2019
Each grandparent finds their own way to maintain connections, build relationships and meet the challenges of sharing their Catholic faith from afar.
John FeisterAugust 21, 2019