Monday, August 29, 2016

In the News: Slight But Discernible Trend of White Catholics Away from Trump — What Does It Mean?

The Blogger platform (which I use here) has a new feature that allows bloggers to designate a "featured post" on the blog's homepage. Some readers may have noticed that I've been using the new feature, and yesterday, I chose to feature a post I wrote at the end of July taking note of an article Father Thomas Reese had just published then, noting that the Catholic vote might well determine the outcome of the 2016 presidential elections. Reese asks,

Will white Catholics go to Trump in high enough percentages to counter Hillary's advantage among minorities?

In the past several days, a number of articles have come out arguing that Donald Trump is "cratering among Catholics." This is how Aaron Blake sizes up the data in a just-published article in Washington Post. Blake notes that "Catholics have long been a swing vote in presidential elections, and right now they’re swinging hard for Clinton."

You'll notice that these statements about "Catholics" conflate white Catholic voters and Hispanic ones — two very different constituencies of American Catholicism that have, we have known for some time now, been pulling in different directions vis-a-vis the two 2016 presidential candidates. I'll say a bit more about that in a moment. For now, I simply want to point out that it's not news to say that "Catholics" are swinging in Clinton's direction, if we conflate white and Hispanic Catholics. We've known about this swing for months now.

As the Pew Forum data I've been citing in postings here indicated in a report released in July, Pew pollsters found by the middle of June that 77% of Hispanic Catholics are pro-Hillary, and 16% are pro-Trump, while 46% of white Catholics were supporting Hillary and 50% of white Catholics were supporting Trump.

What various assessments are now finding — and this definitely is newsworthy — is that white Catholics are migrating to a discernible degree to Hillary Clinton and away from Donald Trump as the election cycle goes on. Last week, Public Religion Research Institute released a new report which finds the following:

Religious groups are also significantly divided in attitudes about both candidates' values. White evangelical Protestant voters are the only religious group in which a majority (56%) say Trump shares their values, while majorities of black Protestants (79 percent) and non-white Catholics (70 percent) say Clinton shares their values. 
The survey demonstrates that Trump's appeal has been strongest among white Protestant voters. A majority of white evangelical Protestant voters (62 percent Trump vs. 23 percent Clinton) and a plurality of white mainline Protestant voters (47 percent Trump vs. 37 percent Clinton) support Trump over Clinton. 
Trump's appeal is weaker among white Catholic voters, a group that has consistently supported Republican presidential candidates. White Catholic voters are closely divided but lean toward Clinton (44 percent Clinton vs. 41 percent Trump), while non-white Catholic voters overwhelmingly support Clinton over Trump (76 percent vs. 13 percent, respectively). Majorities of religiously unaffiliated voters (55 percent vs. 24 percent, respectively) and black Protestant voters (89 percent vs. 2 percent, respectively) support Clinton over Trump.

Note the critically important finding here: White Catholic voters are closely divided but lean toward Clinton (44 percent Clinton vs. 41 percent Trump). That's a discernible shift from Pew's finding in mid-June that, at that point in the campaign, 46% of white Catholics were supporting Hillary and 50% were supporting Trump. Comparing the two reports actually shows a small loss for Hillary Clinton among white Catholics from mid-June to the end of August. But it shows a definite trend away from the support of white Catholics for Donald Trump in the middle of June.

To return to Aaron Blake: here's how Blake sizes up the situation, citing PRRI as well as additional polling data:

Back in 2012, GOP nominee Mitt Romney lost the Catholic vote by just 2 points, 50 percent to 48 percent. And the GOP has actually won the Catholic vote as recently as 2004 and in 5 of the last 10 presidential elections. 
But Trump trails among Catholics by a huge margin. A new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute released this week shows him down 23 points, 55-32.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll released earlier this month painted an even worse picture for Trump’s Catholic support. He was down by 27 points, 61-34.
If you compare the difference between Romney's margin among Catholics in 2012 and Trump's margin among Catholics this year, the 25-point difference is tied for the biggest shift of any demographic group in the Post-ABC poll.

And, again, I'd suggest that if we're going to make Trump's loss of support among "Catholics" an important just-breaking story, one being underreported by journalists as a Daily Kos piece has just argued, we need to parse these data and separate white Catholics from Hispanic and black ones. It isn't in the least news that Trump is trailing among "Catholics." He's been doing that since mid-June when Pew Forum (see the link above) found the following:

Catholics also lean toward Clinton, though they are sharply divided along racial and ethnic lines; Hispanic Catholics overwhelmingly favor Clinton over Trump, while white Catholics are evenly divided between those who prefer Trump and those who favor Clinton. 

If there now appears to be movement away from Trump among white Catholic voters, the real story here might be to ascertain why that movement is taking place. It can't be because the U.S. Catholic bishops have opened their mouths, can it? It can't be because the U.S. Catholic bishops have offered the kind of strong, prescriptive voting guidance they have been wont to offer in previous elections when they oppose Democratic candidates because those candidates are pro-choice or pro-same-sex-marriage, can it? As Mark Silk noted recently, the U.S. bishops have been mum this election cycle, for the most part — and for Catholic centrist Michael Sean Winters, that's fine and dandy, though he continues to be predisposed to hear that "abortion is the most important issue facing our country."

(How any thinking and morally informed person can make that claim with a straight face is beyond me to understand.)

My own admittedly intuitive and uninformed guess about why Trump may be succeeding in nudging some faithful white Catholic Republicans out of the GOP column this election: bigotry. Educated voters of about any confessional ilk are increasingly frightened of the raw, destructive racial bigotry and anti-immigrant bigotry for which Trump stands. And they're justifiably concerned about what putting this man in the White House would portend for the future of their children and grandchildren.

In conclusion: good reporting, both by religious journalists and mainstream media ones, which wants to get to the bottom of this story about trending loss of Trump support among white Catholics ought, it seems to me, to be delving into the reasons for that trend. If white Catholics are moving away from the GOP candidate this election cycle, then why is that happening (and is this trend, slight as it is right now, an indicator of movement that will continue up to the end of the election cycle)?

And, above all, why do white and Hispanic (and African-American) Catholics see the candidates so differently? There's a huge difference between how these various groups approach political, theological, and moral matters, and it serves no good purpose to gloss over that difference as we talk about "the" Catholic vote and "Catholics" in the public square.

The graphic at the head of the posting is from the PRRI report linked in this posting.

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