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Catholics, white evangelicals were key to Trump's victory

Posted November 13, 2016

The 2016 presidential election was unprecedented on many levels, and analysts predicted shake-ups in the voting habits of major demographic groups.

But now that the dust has settled on election season, exit polling data shows that, at least for faith groups, old habits die hard.

"In an election that provided a slew of unpredictable turns, the religion vote broke along strikingly familiar lines," Public Religion Research Institute reported.

Majorities of white evangelical Protestants, white Catholics and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints supported President-elect Donald Trump, while Hillary Clinton earned most votes from Jews, religious "nones" and non-Christians.

These results are unexpected in spite of being normal because faith-related outreach from both campaigns was different than in years past. Clinton is more comfortable with the language of religious devotion than many Democrats because she's been an active Methodist her whole life. Trump, meanwhile, committed many faith-related flubs and shocked some believers with his sexual history.

The misstep that may have cost Clinton some traditionally Republican religious voters is her failure to meet their potential interest with campaign resources.

"The argument is that she should have, just like she did with virtually every other constituency, asked for their votes," tweeted Michael Wear about white evangelicals on election night. He directed faith outreach for President Barack Obama's 2012 campaign.

Similarly, an analysis of the Clinton campaign from The New York Times noted that her advisers turned down opportunities to court white Catholics.

When offered a speaking engagement at the University of Notre Dame, "Mrs. Clinton's campaign refused, explaining to the organizers that white Catholics were not the audience she needed to spend time reaching out to," The Times reported.

Election data on religious voters provides insights for future candidates, as well as for faith leaders hoping to restore peace after a contentious campaign.

"Observers say this election cycle has exposed underlying political and racial divisions within Christianity as a whole, but especially among evangelicals," The Washington Post reported.

Here are four key religion-related takeaways from the 2016 presidential election:

The evangelical divide

White evangelical Christians have been a key voting bloc for the GOP since the 1970s, and 2016 was no exception.

"Trump kissed up to the old religious right and reaped the reward. Eighty-one percent of white evangelicals voted for him, as compared to 79 percent for George W. Bush in 2004, 73 percent for John McCain in 2008 and 79 percent for Mitt Romney in 2012," Religion News Service reported.

President-elect Trump prevailed among these voters in spite of high-profile denunciations from leaders like Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Although exit polling held few surprises when it came to evangelical voters, Trump's campaign may have set future changes in motion. It exposed fault lines within the evangelical community, which may become more pronounced in the coming years.

"Latino evangelicals are one of the fastest growing segments of churchgoers in America and have largely been fueling the growth among evangelicals, and many did not favor the Republican candidate," The Washington Post reported.

Clinton lost Catholics in the end

Election research released this summer showed a shift in Catholic voter preferences from 2012 to 2016. More members of this faith group planned to vote Democrat, and Clinton held a 17 percentage point lead over Trump, Pew Research Center reported in July.

However, by Election Day, Clinton's advantage among Catholics had disappeared, and only 45 percent of this group cast their ballot for her, compared with 52 percent for Trump, Pew reported Wednesday.

Trump succeeded in his pitch to Catholic voters, which included a focus on increasing abortion restrictions, America Magazine reported.

"The Trump campaign promised that he would appoint pro-life Supreme Court justices, and he made a concerted effort to court Catholic voters, through the appointment of a Catholic advisory council, a letter writing campaign to Catholic leaders and a high-profile appearance on Catholic media in the days leading up to the election," the article noted.

As with evangelicals, there was a racial divide within the Catholic community, and Clinton was more compelling to minority voters.

"Sixty percent of white Catholics voted for Trump, compared to 37 percent who supported Clinton. In stark contrast, two-thirds (67 percent) of Hispanic Catholic voters favored Clinton in the election, while about one-quarter (26 percent) voted for Trump," according to PRRI's analysis.

Much ado about Mormons

Republican presidential candidates have won in Utah every year since 1964, but this year, the Mormon-majority state appeared poised to go rogue.

"Given Mormons' reputation for clean living and their embrace of traditional values, there was even some talk in the past few weeks about the red state turning blue, or at least purple," Religion News Service reported.

Polls leading up to Election Day showed a close battle between Trump and Clinton, as well as growing support for third-party candidate Evan McMullin, who is Mormon.

However, Trump won Utah by a wide margin in the end, earning 47 percent of the vote, compared with Clinton's 28 percent and McMullin's 21 percent.

Across the country, "roughly 6 in 10 (61 percent) Mormon voters favored Trump, while Romney, the party's first Mormon candidate, received the support from nearly 8 in 10 (78 percent) Mormons. However, Clinton was not able to capitalize on the defection from Trump, capturing only 25 percent of the Mormon vote," PRRI reported.

Trump won over regular church-attenders

Pew's July survey also predicted a notable shift in the voting habits of people who attend worship services at least weekly.

In the summer of 2012, "Romney enjoyed a 15 percentage point advantage over Obama" among these voters, but four years later members of this group were split almost evenly between the GOP and Democratic nominees, Pew reported.

Exit polling revealed that Trump ended up winning weekly church attenders by 16 percentage points (56 percent to 40 percent.) He also had an edge among people who attend monthly, according to Pew's Nov. 9 analysis.

Clinton did best among voters who never attend church, earning the support of 62 percent of this group, Pew reported.

Email: kdallas@deseretnews.com Twitter: @kelsey_dallas

2 Comments

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  • Ethan Mathews Nov 14, 2016
    user avatar

    95 and 96% of blacks voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. In other words blacks are racists and vote based off skin color. I'm sure some of those voters were devout Christians, but chose skin color over values.

    Furthermore it looks like Hillary's supporters are whiny, sore losers by looking at the rioting, protesting and crying. George Soros funding the entire event. Michael Moore encouraging folks to protest. Folks threatening to the US for Canada. Why not go to Mexico? Doesn't sound like the left is the loving and peaceful kind they claim to be when facing defeat....lol

  • Lee Rogers Nov 14, 2016
    user avatar

    In other words, Trump was chosen by people that believe in fairy tales. Sounds about right.