Immaculate election: Catholic comeback the difference for Trump
President-elect Donald Trump must have been saying his prayers on Election Night, which saw the political neophyte convincingly win the Catholic vote after having trailed in the crucial demographic for nearly the entire campaign.
Exit polls show that Catholics backed the Republican nominee over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, 52 percent to 45 percent. Surveys leading up to the election indicated the faith group was shunning the New York real estate developer in droves.
Jay Richards, executive editor of the conservative Christian news website The Stream, said he monitored Catholic opinion up until Election Day and noticed a massive shift at the last minute.
“I think it’s one of the most profound demographic shifts that I’ve seen in my lifetime,” said Mr. Richards, who teaches business and economics at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
A Public Religion Research Institute (PPRI) survey in late August showed Mr. Clinton leading Mr. Trump among Catholics by 23 points, 55 percent to 32 percent. A Washington Post-ABC News poll that month similarly put her lead at 27 points, 61 percent to 34 percent.
And things still looked grim for Mr. Trump as Election Day drew near. A midOctober PPRI/Brookings poll showed Catholics favoring Mrs. Clinton (a Methodist) over Mr. Trump (a Presbyterian) by a 24-point margin, 57 percent to 33 percent.
Mr. Richards said Catholics initially were reluctant to back the reality TV star because of his vulgarity and harsh tone on immigration. The turning point, he said, came in the third presidential debate when Mr. Trump contrasted in stark terms his opinion on abortion against that of Mrs. Clinton.
“You remember the third debate, the one question about abortion that had never come up in a debate, came up,” Mr. Richards said. “Trump fumbled around a little bit but finally nailed it. There was not a Catholic that watched that who could not remember the ghoulishness of Hillary Clinton when it came to partialbirth abortion and Trump’s impassioned, commonsensical defense of unborn human life. It was huge.”
Catholic voters make up roughly a quarter of the electorate and, due in part to their numbers, have a track record of correctly picking the eventual president. The 2016 general election marks the first time since 1972 that the winner of the Catholic vote has not also won the popular vote. (Mrs. Clinton received about 336,000 more votes than Mr. Trump, who garnered at least 279 electoral votes to seal his victory.)
Grazie Pozo Christie, a policy adviser for The Catholic Association think tank, said part of the swing toward Mr. Trump can be explained by a general desire for the country to change direction.
“Partially, I think it’s because of the general shift, because Catholics, being such a huge part of the electorate, they reflect the general shift of the electorate to a great extent,” Ms. Pozo Christie said. “So, in general, Catholics vote like the rest of America, and this was a change election.”
She said Mr. Trump’s populist message resonated with white, working-class Catholics in the Rust Belt, where the billionaire businessman made his biggest electoral gains.