For decades, Roman Catholics have been associated with the Democratic Party. The first Catholic president was a Democrat, and the first Catholic presidential candidate was also a Democrat. Yet American Catholics have found themselves torn between a pro-abortion Democratic Party and a Republican Party championing life and religious freedom. A new poll from EWTN and RealClearPolitics suggests that the more devout a Catholic is, the more he or she is likely to support President Donald Trump.
Catholics are roughly evenly divided on whether or not they will vote for Trump, with 34 percent saying they will and another 36 percent saying they will never vote for him. Slightly less than half (47 percent) approve of Trump’s job performance as president.
Yet among Catholics who self-identify as devout, 63 percent approve of Trump and 59 percent plan to vote for him in 2020. A majority of devout Catholics support Trump in head-to-head matches against his potential Democratic opponents.
Devout Catholics are more likely to follow their church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life and they are more likely to support religious freedom as an important constitutional right. These devout Catholics push against the dominant cultural trends of the sexual revolution, support for LGBT identities, and a lax attitude toward abortion.
Less than half of those in the poll say that abortion (47 percent), euthanasia (45 percent), or physician-assisted suicide (41 percent) are intrinsically evil. Devout Catholics, by contrast, are far more likely to agree with official church teaching about the intrinsic evil of abortion (71 percent), physician-assisted suicide (70 percent), and euthanasia (64 percent).
The poll found similar divisions on issues like whether Christian owners of wedding-related businesses should have the right not to provide services for a same-sex wedding or whether the Catholic Church should be required to allow individuals who do not follow Catholic teachings to work in parochial schools. These divisions should prove distressing to Americans who value religious freedom.
While most Catholics (55 percent) said bathrooms, changing rooms, and locker rooms should be based on biological sex rather than gender identity, 30 percent said they should be based on gender identity rather than biological sex.
These issues resonate with devout Catholics and with church leaders. The National Catholic Prayer Breakfast will be awarding Attorney General William Barr next month for his “long history of dedicated public service and his commitment to the defense of the vulnerable and religious liberty.”
Earlier this year, Trump became the first president to address the March for Life in person, and he has proven himself a champion of religious freedom. One study found that his 2017 religious freedom executive order helped protect religious charities that extended health care and social services to 13.7 million people. Many of the charities at the center of religious freedom conflicts are Catholic, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor. President Obama’s contraceptive mandate forced the Little Sisters to violate their consciences by subsidizing abortion-inducing drugs. Trump has attempted to reverse that mandate.
Not all of the Catholic support for Trump can be tied to these social issues, however. A majority of Catholics (58 percent) say the country is better off financially now than it was four years ago. Another 63 percent of Catholics say they personally are better off financially than they were four years ago.
Hispanic Catholics are less likely to support Trump and less likely to appreciate the booming Trump economy, however.
About one-third of Catholics in the poll identify themselves as Hispanic (37 percent), and these Hispanic Catholics prove the least likely to support Trump. Only 29 percent approve of the president and 58 percent say the country is worse off financially now than it was four years ago. (Sixty-seven percent of non-Hispanic Catholics say the country is better off financially.)
In his book How America’s Political Parties Change (and How They Don’t), Michael Barone explains that the “Democratic Party has always been a combination, a coalition, of people who are not thought of, by themselves or others, as typical Americans, but who together often form a majority: southern slaveholders and big-city Catholics in the nineteenth century, churchgoing and urban blacks and affluent urban and suburban liberals in the twenty-first.”
While Catholics have always had a presence in the United States — Charles Carroll signed the Declaration of Independence — they have often seen themselves as a minority in a majority Protestant nation. Hispanic Catholics still see themselves as an embattled minority, while non-Hispanic Catholics increasingly see themselves as at home in America. While this religious minority often sought representation in the Democratic Party, Catholics are increasingly accepted and indeed celebrated among conservatives and Republicans for their pro-life stance.
Trump may not win the majority of the Catholic vote in 2020, but he is likely to carry a large margin among the most devout.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.