Mark J. Rozell: Catholics, not evangelicals, will make or break Trump
Source: Pittsburgh Post – Gazette
BY MARK J. ROZELL
Much has been made of Donald Trump’s support from white evangelicals in 2016, but a case can be made that his unlikely victory was anchored as much by his strong showing among white Catholic voters in the three Great Lakes states that were critical to his Electoral College majority. The Catholic vote this year may yet again be a key to the outcome of the presidential campaign.
In 2016, Mr. Trump won Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — states with heavy concentrations of Catholic voters — by merely 107,000 votes combined. Although since the 1980s the U.S. national vote and the Catholic vote component have tracked very closely to each other in each election cycle, 2016 was an exception: Hillary Clinton handily won the national popular vote and Mr. Trump won the majority of Catholic voters. Exit polls had Mr. Trump holding a 52%-to-45% edge among Catholics.
Two critical things happened that helped Mr. Trump: his populist economic appeals to white working class voters in those key states, and the widely predicted “Latino surge” never materialized. Latino voting was slightly down and slightly less Democratic in 2016 than in 2012. To win this year, Democratic nominee Joe Biden has to hold down his losses among white Catholics, and he needs a strong turnout among the largely Catholic Latino population.
For these reasons, Catholics are often referred to as the “swing vote” in American politics. At nearly one-fourth of the voting population, they indeed yield much influence in national elections. For many years a reliable part of the old New Deal coalition that anchored the Democratic Party, since the 1980s the Catholic vote has splintered. The loosening of Democratic ties and the movement toward the GOP for many Catholics have largely been the result of two factors: economic success and the issue of abortion.
First, Catholics used to be composed largely of the immigrant underclass that moved to the inner cities, joined labor unions and voted Democratic. But as their children and grandchildren became better educated, achieved economic success and moved to the suburbs, these newer generations of voters started warming up to the GOP.