AP VoteCast: Trump wins white evangelicals, Catholics split

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A woman waits to vote at the Cathedral of Praise church on Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump won support from about 8 in 10 white evangelical Christian voters in his race for reelection, but Catholic voters split almost evenly between him and Democratic opponent Joe Biden, according to AP VoteCast.

Trump’s strong hold on white evangelical voters illustrates the GOP’s enduring success with a bloc of religious conservatives who have been a linchpin of the president’s political base since his 2016 victory. The president's path to a second term has grown narrower, however, amid a divide among Catholics between Trump and Biden, a lifelong member of the faith.

AP VoteCast showed 50% of Catholics backing Trump and 49% favoring Biden, reflecting the faith’s longstanding role as a closely contested vote in presidential elections — particularly in Rust Belt battleground states such as Michigan and Wisconsin. Trump won both of those states by less than 1 percentage point in 2016, but Biden prevailed in both this year. The survey of more than 110,000 voters nationwide was conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.

Ahead of the election, the rival campaigns targeted Catholics with fervent appeals to vote based on their faith. Trump supporters said faithful Catholics should not vote for Biden because of his support for abortion rights, while Biden backers said Trump is too divisive and has failed to elevate social justice issues that are part of Catholic teaching.

Michael Wear, a past faith adviser to former President Barack Obama, said he saw signs that the Biden campaign’s focused outreach to religious voters – which included multiple ads invoking the former vice president’s Catholicism – had paid off. Biden would be just the second Catholic president after John F. Kennedy.

“Biden’s political approach has been vindicated in these results,” said Wear, who helped lead a bipartisan super PAC this fall that aimed to undercut Trump’s Christian support. “He ran because he believed he would not lose the Rust Belt, when the nominee in 2016 did.”

Michael New, an abortion opponent who teaches social research at Catholic University of America, said Trump’s opposition to abortion likely attracted some Catholic voters even if they disagreed with him on other issues.

This year, Catholic voters accounted for 22% of the electorate, and there was a sharp rift within their ranks by race and ethnicity.