One way or another, it’s clear that white evangelical support for Donald Trump is the biggest religion-and-politics story to come out of the election. But as a former student pointed out to me yesterday, that’s not the only Christian group that might have some soul-searching to do.
Now, this is preliminary analysis of exit polls, and such conclusions don’t always hold up to later scrutiny further out from the election. But here are a few key findings from the non-partisan Pew Research Center:
- A third of the voters in the exit poll sample reported attending religious services weekly. By a 16-point margin, they voted for Trump (56-40). Among the 22% polled who never attend a church, synagogue, mosque, etc., Clinton doubled Trump’s support (62-31).
- The split in favor of Trump was biggest among white evangelicals (81-15), but Trump also won sizable majorities among white Catholics (60-37) and Mormons (61-25).
- Among all Protestants lumped together (including, I assume, black Protestants who voted overwhelmingly in favor of Clinton), Trump still prevailed by 19 points (58-39).
And he won the overall Catholic vote 52-45, despite that group having gone for Gore and (twice) Obama. That’s in part because one in four Hispanic Catholics voted for Trump.
- The religious makeup of the electorate was quite similar to 2012, with Catholics down 2 points and the religious “nones” up by three.
- Compared to 2012, Trump fared worse than Mitt Romney among only two religious groups: Mormons (-17) and Jews (-6).
- Those were also the only two religious groups with whom Clinton even slightly outperformed Barack Obama (by four and two points, respectively). In every other group — including “other faiths” (-12) and “religiously unaffiliated” (-2) — she did worse than the sitting president.
I haven’t seen an exit poll analysis that breaks down the Protestant vote into more categories. But consider that for all the pre-election attention paid to polls showing steady white evangelical support for Trump, it’s also true that white mainline Protestants consistently favored the Republican nominee (e.g., 50-39 in this July poll from Pew).
One easy takeaway is that Democrats need to reevaluate how they reach out to religious Americans, who are in numerical decline but will remain the vast majority of the electorate for at least the near future.
Meanwhile, I’m sure that I’ll keep pondering how the religious Americans most similar to me in belief and practice were so overwhelmingly in favor of Donald Trump, but other groups have plenty of pondering to do.
Finally, I’m too much of a historian to accept anything other than a multi-causal explanation for what happened Tuesday, but it’s hard to avoid the racial adjective that correlates so closely to support for Trump. So I hope that white Christians of all different backgrounds take time to contemplate the relationship between whiteness, faith, and politics, and that they listen especially closely to the voices of their sisters and brothers of color.