Election 2020

3 Ways Trump Can Win the Catholic Vote in 2020

AP Photo/John Bazemore

Most likely voters who identify as Roman Catholic support Democratic nominee Joe Biden, despite the Democrat’s positions on abortion and religious freedom. At just over one-fifth of the population, Catholics form a pivotal voting bloc. An important new poll from EWTN and RealClearPolitics shows Trump at an immense disadvantage, but it also highlights three issues where the president can make up some ground on his opponent in this crucial voting bloc.

First, the bad news: Self-identified Catholics prefer Biden (52 percent) to Trump (40 percent) nationwide. Fifty-nine percent of Catholics say they prefer Biden’s temperament to that of Trump, while only 33 percent prefer Trump’s temperament. More than half (53 percent) say they agree with Biden’s policies, while only 41 percent said they agree with Trump’s. More Catholics also disapprove (53 percent) than approve (47 percent) of Trump’s performance as president.

Worse, more of the Catholics in the EWTN/RCP sample said they voted for Trump (48 percent) than for Hillary Clinton (46 percent) in the 2016 presidential election.

Catholics form a somewhat representative sample of the American population as a whole. The EWTN/RCP sample included 1,490 Catholics, 60 percent white, about a third Hispanic or Latino, and three percent black. The poll revealed major political gaps along the lines of race, age, and religious observance. White Catholics, older Catholics, and more observant Catholics favored Trump more.

The poll also highlighted three issues where Trump can make up some ground in the race against Biden.

1. Abortion

While the Roman Catholic Church officially condemns abortion, self-identified Catholics have a broad range of opinions on the issue. Even so, Biden’s positions on abortion are too extreme for most Catholics.

Most Catholics (66 percent) say abortion is an important political issue for them, and most of them support limits on abortion.

A tiny minority of Catholics say abortion should be available throughout pregnancy (15 percent), while most would limit it to one degree or another. Catholics would limit abortion to the first six months of the pregnancy (7 percent); the first three months of the pregnancy (18 percent); the cases of rape, incest, or a threat to the mother’s life (37 percent); a threat to the mother’s life (11 percent). About one-in-ten (11 percent) would ban abortion under all circumstances.

Although the vast majority of Catholics support far more restrictions to abortion than those imposed by Roe v. Wade (1973), almost half of them (45 percent) say the Supreme Court should uphold Roe, while 25 percent say it should reverse Roe and rule that abortion is unconstitutional, and 18 percent say the Court should send the issue back to the states to make their own laws on abortion. This suggests many Catholics do not understand how radical Roe is.

While Catholics are divided on Roe, most of them (60 percent) say they would be less likely to support a candidate who would allow for abortion at any time during pregnancy. Only 28 percent say they would be more likely to support such a candidate. More than two-thirds of Catholics (68 percent) of those who attend Mass weekly would reconsider supporting that candidate.

Slightly more than half (52 percent) of Catholics say they would be less likely to support a candidate who supports taxpayer funding for abortion, while 34 percent say they would be more likely to support such a candidate. Catholics who attend Mass weekly say they are less likely to support a candidate like Biden (59 percent).

Joe Biden is that candidate. Biden supports Roe and he has sponsored abortion legislation that does not limit abortion to earlier phases of pregnancy. Biden vocally supports taxpayer funding for abortion, as well.

If Catholics understood Biden’s abortion extremism, they would be less likely to support him.

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2. The riots

After the death of George Floyd, protests loosely affiliated with the officially Marxist organization Black Lives Matter erupted across the country. Many of these protests became violent riots that disproportionately damaged black communities in Kenosha, Wisc.Minneapolis, and Chicago. The riots destroyed black livesblack livelihoods, and black monuments. At least 26 Americans have died in the riots, most of them black.

Catholics are divided on Black Lives Matter, but they oppose violent riots. More Catholics say Black Lives Matter does more harm than good (44 percent), although many still say Black Lives Matter does more good than harm (35 percent).

Catholics overwhelmingly support nonviolent protests, with 61 percent saying such protests do “more good than harm,” and another 22 percent saying they make “no difference.” However, Catholics overwhelmingly condemn the “protests that turn violent.” A whopping 82 percent say these violent protests do “more harm than good,” while only 7 percent say they do “more good than harm.”

Interestingly, more respondents say they are worried about “white supremacist groups like the KKK” (26 percent) than they are about “left wing groups like antifa” (18 percent), although 45 percent say they view both sides equally as a threat. This means that 53 percent of Catholics see antifa as a serious threat.

While Biden condemned the arson and looting early on and more recently, he remained silent for months. He singled out “right-wing militias” but never mentioned antifa or Black Lives Matter agitators. He did condemn antifa in one isolated interview. He has yet to condemn the vandalism and arson against Catholic churches and statues, not to mention the terrifying mob attacks on America’s Founders.

Biden is weak on this issue. According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED), 89.67 percent of riots in the United States between May 26 and October 10, 2020, were associated with the Black Lives Matter movement. These riots were an overwhelmingly left-wing phenomenon, yet Biden has acted as though the right is responsible for the violence.

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3. Religious freedom

Most Catholics (66 percent) say religious freedom is a concern in the 2020 election, while only 33 percent disagree. Catholics who claim to accept all or most of the church’s teachings prove more likely (78 percent) to worry about religious freedom.

Catholics overwhelmingly say they are more likely (78 percent) to back a candidate who supports the religious rights of people of faith.

However, Catholics are divided on the issue of politicians mandating that Catholic organizations provide insurance for abortion-inducing drugs. Only 42 percent say they would be less likely to support a candidate who requires Catholic organizations to pay for abortion-inducing drugs, while 38 percent say they would be more likely to support such a candidate.

Biden has explicitly said he would reverse the Trump administration’s rule allowing Catholic organizations to opt-out of providing insurance payments covering abortion-inducing drugs.

Catholics overwhelmingly support Article VI of the Constitution, which prohibits a religious test for public office, including judicial appointments. A whopping 74 percent of Catholics say they support such a policy, while only 12 percent oppose it.

Yet Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), has hounded Trump judicial nominees over their religious associations with traditional Roman Catholic organizations like the Knights of Columbus, attacks that arguably violate Article VI. While Harris refrained from such questions in the hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, that does not erase her record on this issue.

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It seems many Catholic voters are unaware of Harris’ record. Roughly the same percentage of Catholics support Harris (42 percent) and Vice President Mike Pence (40 percent) for vice president.

On a press call about the poll, RealClearPolitics Washington Bureau Chief Carl Cannon told reporters he thinks Biden’s campaign theme of “restoring the soul of America” is resonating with Catholic voters. He paraphrased a line in Biden’s acceptance speech: “I will work just as hard as president for the people who didn’t vote for me as those who did.”

Yet Biden himself has embraced the radical pro-LGBT Equality Act, calling it his top priority. He also described some conservatives who oppose LGBT activism as “the dregs of society.”

In 2018, he attacked people who have “tried to define family” in the U.S. “Despite losing in the courts and in the court of public opinion, these forces of intolerance remain determined to undermine and roll back the progress you all have made. This time they, not you, have an ally in the White House,” he said of President Trump.

“They’re a small percentage of the American people, virulent people, some of them the dregs of society,” Biden added. “And instead of using the full might of the executive branch to secure justice, dignity, safety for all, the president uses the White House as a literal bully pulpit, callously exerting his power over those who have little or none.”

Biden does not represent a “return to normalcy” or a restoration of America’s soul. Biden’s age and many gaffes raise serious concerns about his ability to serve as president. When it comes to character, he has bragged about the character defamation of Robert Bork, lied about the man involved in the tragic accident that killed his wife, and even compared Trump to the Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

Biden would not be a champion for conservative Christians — including Catholics — whose religious beliefs on marriage, gender, and abortion increasingly face demonization. His promise to “restore the soul of America” may resonate with Catholic voters, but it is false. Catholics — and Americans, as a whole — need to know that.

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Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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