Im­mac­u­late elec­tion: Catholic come­back the dif­fer­ence for Trump

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY BRAD­FORD RICHARD­SON

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.

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