Poll suggests the Democratic nominee is supported by 51 per cent of Catholics compared to 40 per cent for her Republican rivals

Catholics are giving the edge to Hillary Clinton in the US presidential race, according to a new poll released on October 31.

Hispanic Catholics and white women are helping Clinton make these gains, said the poll results, released by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) in conjunction with the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington.

Clinton, the Democratic nominee, got support from 51 per cent of Catholics compared to 40 per cent for Donald Trump, the Republican nominee. This compares to a much closer 50 per cent – 48 per cent advantage Catholics gave to President Barack Obama over GOP challenger Mitt Romney four years ago in Obama’s re-election bid.

White Catholics prefer Trump by a plurality of 48 per cent to 41 per cent. But non-white Catholics give Clinton a 78 percent – 17 per cent boost, said Robert Jones, PRRI president, during the news conference. By comparison, Romney carried white Catholics by 18 percentage points in 2012, but lost to Hispanic Catholics by 54 percentage points.

That Republicans are trailing so badly among Hispanics should come as no surprise, said Maria Teresa Kumar, founding president of Voto Latino, when in 2012 “you talk self-deportation” — a Romney position on immigration — and in 2016 “you’re talking about their families … and then you start talking about building a wall.” Trump made headlines on the campaign trail with his remarks that immigrants who are entering the country without legal permission are “bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists,” and about building a wall to stop such border crossings and make Mexico pay for it.

Many immigrants, Kumar said, live in “mixed status families” — some with legal status, others without legal status, others are citizens, including the US-born children of immigrants in the US without documentation — and 51 per cent of what she called the nation’s “population boom” are the children of immigrants.

Jones said white Catholics’ overall support for Trump did not vary much by age, as Catholics ages 18-49 favoured him 49 per cent to 40 per cent for Clinton, while those 50 and over chose Trump 47 per cent to 41 per cent for Clinton. He attributed the lack of difference to the Church’s “loss of the young people, who are generally more liberal.” Jones said this trend also can be spotted among white evangelical Christians.

The bigger difference, according to the poll, comes in gender. White Catholic men back Trump 58 per cent to 33 per cent for Hillary, but white Catholic women support Clinton 49 per cent with 38 per cent for Trump. “A gender gap in vote preference is evident across religious groups,” said the poll, titled The 2016 Religion Vote. But “white Catholic voters have a much more pronounced gender gap,” it said.

There is a gender gap among Hispanics who vote, according to Kumar. In the last presidential election, 51 per cent of Hispanic women voted, she said, but only 39 per cent of Hispanic men did.

The numbers for this new poll were aggregated from four separate PRRI polls conducted from September 22 – October 17. The time frame includes the leaking by NBC of a recording of lewd comments made by Trump off camera in 2005 that were picked up by a “hot mic” before a TV interview. The time period does not include the third presidential debate or the FBI announcement on October 28 that it was conducting a further investigation into Clinton’s emails being on an unauthorised computer when she was secretary of state.

Washington Post columnist EJ Dionne reiterated a conviction he said he has long held: “There is no ‘Catholic vote’ — and it’s important.”

Catholics make up a bit over one-fifth of the electorate. However, their numbers are stronger in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where they are about one-third of all voters, Dionne said. Catholics also make up about one-fourth of all voters in Florida, Arizona, Nevada and Ohio. All of these states were being hotly contested in the campaign’s final days.

Jones showed a pie chart in his presentation dividing Catholics into three roughly equal parts: “intentional Catholics” who go to church weekly and tilt Republican; “cultural Catholics” who go to church less often and lean Democratic; and Latino Catholics, whose “slice” of the pie in the chart was the largest of the three.
Dionne, though, broke it down into “social renewal Catholics” for whom life issues are paramount and “social justice Catholics” who focus more on Catholic social teaching.

The differences are real, he said. “You see this right at the parish level all over the country. There are differences” in how the Gospel mandate is interpreted, Dionne added.

“Ideology trumps religion. Ideology trumps faith,” he declared.

To illustrate Dionne’s point, Jones cited result from a PRRI survey released on October 26, The Divide Over America’s Future: 1950 or 2050? Respondents were asked, “Since the 1950s, do you think American culture and way of life has mostly changed for the better, or has it mostly changed for the worse?” Sixty-five per cent of Hispanic Catholics replied it had mostly changed for the better, but 57 per cent of white Catholics said it had mostly changed for the worse.