White Catholic swing voters more crucial to Trump’s reelection than evangelicals: policy scholar

Catholics pray during a mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, Feb. 11, 2013.
Catholics pray during a mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, Feb. 11, 2013. | Reuters/Brendan McDermid)

White Catholic voters, rather than white evangelicals, will be the deciding factor as to whether President Donald Trump is reelected, according to a public policy scholar.

Evangelical voters are unlikely to abandon Trump, according to Mark J. Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, who said the voting block to watch are white Catholics in the Midwest, especially those living in the Great Lakes states who propelled Trump to victory in 2016 and might do it again in November.

“In 2016, Mr. Trump won Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — states with heavy concentrations of Catholic voters — by merely 107,000 votes combined,” Rozell wrote in an op-ed published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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“Clinton handily won the national popular vote and Mr. Trump won the majority of Catholic voters. Exit polls had Mr. Trump holding a 52%-to-45% edge among Catholics.”

Rozell attributed this success to white Catholics voting in large numbers while Latino Catholics voted in smaller numbers than 2012, with more voting Republican.

Rozell said that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, himself a Catholic, must “hold down his losses among white Catholics” and get “a strong turnout among the largely Catholic Latino population.”

Rozell warned that Biden cannot merely rely on his own religious identity for a win, as most Catholics voted for Methodist George W. Bush in 2004 rather than fellow Catholic, John Kerry.

“The loosening of Democratic ties and the movement toward the GOP for many Catholics have largely been the result of two factors: economic success and the issue of abortion,” he continued.

“… with the open embrace of abortion rights by the Democrats and the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, many Catholics questioned whether the party any longer represented their values.”

Much has been made about the strong support for Trump among self-identified white evangelicals, who voted for the Republican nominee in large numbers in 2016. 

For example, Pew Research Center released a report in July which found that 82% of white evangelicals plan to vote for Trump and approve of his job performance.  

In analyzing the reasons for Clinton’s defeat in 2016, some pointed to the conservative Catholic voters in swing states like Pennsylvania and Ohio as an important factor.  

Daniel R. Kempton, a political science professor at the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, argued this point in a 2016 piece published by the National Catholic Reporter.

Specifically, Kempton cited Clinton’s pro-abortion stance and her support for measures he considered a threat to the religious liberty of Catholic organizations.

“Maybe … next time all Catholics can search together for a candidate without a trace of intolerance, racism, or misogyny, but also a candidate respectful of freedom of religion and who is not seeking to expand access to abortion,” he wrote.

“If not, I will stand with you when I can to protect the environment, to fight intolerance, to prevent racism, and to treat the poor and the immigrant community with kindness. But I still won't vote for candidates who threaten our freedom of religion and seek to expand federal support for abortion abroad and at home.”

In an analysis published in July, Frank Newport of Gallup wrote that it was “unlikely that Biden's Catholic religion will be a significant factor in the election — in either direction.”

“Highly active Catholics are disproportionately likely to be Trump supporters and tend not to share Biden's position on the hot-button issue of abortion,” wrote Newport.

“Less active and Hispanic Catholics are more Democratic, which is good for Biden, but it's not clear that his Catholicism per se will increase their enthusiasm for his candidacy or increase their likelihood to turn out and vote.”

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