EWTN and Real Clear Politics released their poll of U.S. Catholics this week. Between November 15-22 they surveyed 1,223 Catholic voters and their poll has a margin of error of +/-2.66 percent. Where will Catholics land in 2020?
Catholics have traditionally been a swing vote. Between 1952-2016, Catholics voted for a Democratic candidates for president ten times, for Republican candidates for president four times, and in three elections it was too close to call. In election years where it has been definitive, Catholics have voted for the winner of the election or the popular vote winner every time.
The 2016 presidential election was one election where it is uncertain who Democrats supported. Major media outlet exit polls showed that President Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton among Catholics by a 52 percent to 46 percent margin. This represented a five point drop for Democrats since 2012. Trump defeated Clinton among white Catholics 60 percent to 39 percent. This was a three point drop for Democrats compared to 2012. Clinton won among Hispanic Catholics 67 percent to 26 percent, but that represented the largest percent drop – eight points – for the Democratic candidate compared to 2012.
Thomas Reese of the National Catholic Reporter wrote, “The ANES showed 74 percent of Hispanic Catholics voting for Clinton and only 19 percent voting for Trump. But 56 percent of white Catholics voted for Trump and 37 percent for Clinton.”
So who won? It depends on which polls you trust more.
Interestingly, looking at the EWTN/Real Clear Politics poll, of those polled Clinton won a plurality of voters in 2016 – 47 percent to 46 percent. Adherence to Catholic teaching mattered. Those who identified as Catholics who accept most or all of the Catholic Church’s teachings voted for Trump 53 percent to 42 percent. Those who said they accepted only some of the teachings voted for Clinton 51 percent to 38 percent. Those who said Catholic teachings had minor or little influence on them voted overwhelmingly for Clinton – 60 percent to 32 percent.
Of the Catholics polled, 46 percent identified themselves as Democrat while 34 percent said they are Republican. Also, 57 percent of Catholic voters polled identified themselves as white while 37 percent said they were Hispanic. Female Catholic voters outnumbered male Catholic voters in the poll by a large margin – 56 percent to 44 percent. In regards to political ideology, 26 percent of Catholics voters polled said they were liberal, 42 percent said they were moderate, and 32 percent identified themselves as conservative.
Looking at 2020, President Trump is underwater in his favorability rating with 55 percent of Catholics saying they disapprove of Trump’s job performance while 44 percent say they approve. They have a worse view of Congressional Republicans with 57 percent saying they disapprove while 39 percent say they approve of their job performance. Congressional Democrats are slightly above water among Catholics while 49 percent say they have a favorable view of Democrats while 47 percent say they do not. Catholics have a positive view of the Supreme Court with a 59 percent approval rating and 29 percent disapproval rating.
Among those who say they’ll vote in a Democratic caucus or primary, Joe Biden leads with 29 percent, Bernie Sanders trails by five points at 24 percent. Elizabeth Warren is in third place with single digits at 9 percent, and Pete Buttigieg is in fourth place with six percent.
Polling for the general election is a mixed bag for President Trump. On one hand 53 percent of U.S. Catholics say they will vote for him or are open to the possibility of voting for him. Of that number 34 percent said they will vote for his re-election, while 10 percent say there is a good chance they will vote for him, and 9 percent say it is possible they will vote for him.
On the other hand, Trump does not do well in potential head to head match-ups among U.S. Catholics.
- Donald Trump (39 percent) vs. Joe Biden (51 percent)
- Donald Trump (41 percent) vs. Elizabeth Warren (49 percent)
- Donald Trump (39 percent) vs. Bernie Sanders (54 percent)
- Donald Trump (41 percent) vs. Pete Buttigieg (46 percent)
As in 2012, adherence and agreement with Catholic Church teachings makes a difference. Among that group, Trump does significantly better:
- Trump (46 percent) vs. Biden (46 percent)
- Trump (48 percent) vs. Warren (43 percent)
- Trump (47 percent) vs. Sanders (47 percent)
- Trump (47 percent) vs. Buttigieg (41 percent)
Also, 55 percent of U.S. Catholics support impeachment compared to 40 percent who do not.
As with most Americans – healthcare and the economy are the top concerns among U.S. Catholics. Also, 81 percent believe Americans are overly sensitive, 69 percent have more fear than hope for the future, 70 percent believe Americans have become less tolerant of religion, and 62 percent believe religious values should play a greater role in society.
In terms of the influence of Christianity, 50 percent believes Christianity’s influence on culture today is positive, 19 percent believes it is negative, and 25 percent believe it isn’t significant. Only 22 percent of U.S. Catholics believe Christianity’s influence is on the rise compared to 48 percent who say it is in decline.
In terms of the sex abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church, U.S. Catholics have a slightly favorable view of Pope Francis’ handling of the scandal – 44 percent who approve compared to 41 percent who disapprove. There is a majority unfavorable view of the U.S. Bishops handling of the sex abuse scandal, 55 percent of U.S. Catholics disapprove while only 30 percent approve.
Only 19 percent of Catholics surveyed believe abortion should be legal in all circumstances with 76 percent favoring at least a ban on late-term abortion. However, only 46 percent believe abortion should be illegal in most, if not all, cases.
Only 44 percent of U.S. Catholics say their faith influences how they vote while 54 percent says it has little to no influence at all.
I have questions about the make-up of the sample of U.S. Catholic voters. Is there that much of a disparity between female and male voters? Is the Democrat to Republican disparity accurate? Both of these things make a big difference in the overall results.
I also would be curious to see where Trump stands among white Catholics and Hispanic Catholics. The overall poll included non-Catholics and the cross-tabs didn’t share poll results among those groups specifically. Republicans traditional fare better among white Catholics and Democrats among Hispanic Catholics. I’m curious what the margins in those groups look like compared to 2016 exit polling.
While President Trump isn’t doing well in head to head, the fact 54 percent say they are open to voting for his re-election demonstrates that a good number of voters can still be swayed.