Election 2016: Breakdown of the Catholic Vote

‘Presidential candidates who win the Catholic vote almost always win the presidency,’ says Georgetown University researcher.

(photo: asterchief_Productions vis Shutterstock)

WASHINGTON — Catholics voted once again for the winning presidential candidate in Tuesday’s election, as they have done in recent elections.

“Catholics continue to be the only major religious voting block that can shift from one election to the next,” Mark Gray of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University stated on Wednesday.

“This is what makes the Catholic vote such an important swing vote. Presidential candidates who win the Catholic vote almost always win the presidency,” he added.

The few election polls that did list respondents by religion showed results for Catholics that varied widely depending on the day. Polling experts who warned of “volatility in the polls” insisted that the Catholic vote would be almost impossible to predict before the election.

For instance, one Investor’s Business Daily tracking poll showed Donald Trump winning Catholics by 16 points on Nov. 4, only to have Clinton winning Catholic voters by three points on Nov. 7.

After President Barack Obama narrowly carried the Catholic vote by two points in his 2012 re-election bid, Trump won the Catholic vote by seven points on Tuesday, according to exit polls. The Pew Research Center reported on the religious voter data. This marks the fourth straight election that Catholics have voted for the winning president.

In 2000, Catholics also voted for the winner of the popular vote, Al Gore, who narrowly lost the Electoral College. Trump lost the popular vote, thus breaking the trend of Catholics voting with the popular vote in presidential elections.

Trump’s margin of victory among white Catholics on Tuesday was striking. While that bloc normally votes Republican — Mitt Romney won it by 19 points in 2012 — Trump went even further and won it by 23 points, according to  exit polls, the highest margin of victory in that bloc since before the 2000 election.

As expected, Trump lost the Hispanic Catholic vote decidedly — 67% to 26% — but still at the lowest margin of defeat for a Republican presidential ticket for that bloc since the 2004 election. And the group CatholicVote.org noted in its post-election statement, “among non-Spanish speaking Latino Catholics, the margin was likely significantly closer.”

Gray cautioned that, although Catholics clearly supported Trump in the exit polls, more data may be needed for the full context. “What we don’t know yet is why Catholics voted as a majority for Donald Trump,” he told CNA.

Historically, Catholics vary in their ultimate party preference, usually voting for the winning party in an election. “No other major religious group does this,” Gray emphasized. “Other Christians reliably vote majority Republican. Those of non-Christian affiliations or no religious affiliation vote consistently Democrat.”

There was a divide in support among weekly churchgoing Christians and those who do not attend church as frequently. Exit polls showed Trump winning among weekly churchgoers 56% to 40%, while among those attending a “few times a year” there was basically an even split.

Clinton enjoyed a large victory (31 points) among those who do not attend religious services.

Navy Chaplain Controversy, Catholic Vote (Sept. 19, 2020)

With the 2020 election less than 50 days away, the Trump and Biden campaigns have been appealing to communities of faith — including Catholics — by highlighting issues they believe will resonate with religious voters. This week on Register Radio we talk to Register correspondent Lauretta Brown about the outreach of both campaigns to the Catholic vote. And then, we hear from Jonathan Liedl about the controversy over the Navy and the chaplain corps that raises questions about religious liberty in the armed forces.