How Donald Trump Won the Catholic Vote

Reading Time: 4 minutes
By Stephen Calandrino


In the early morning of November 9th, Republican Donald J. Trump pulled off one of the biggest upsets in modern political history to win the Presidency against Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton.  While much of the past week has been devoted to attempts to explain how Trump’s victory, possibly the most significant (and underreported) element of his victory was his strength amongst Roman Catholic voters.  After a brief dust up with Pope Francis[1] over Trump’s stance against illegal immigrants and the lack of support from Catholic former candidates such as Jeb Bush and John Kasich, many analysts had concluded the Catholic vote would go to Hillary Clinton months ago.  Even the Investor’s Business Daily tracking poll, which was the only 4-way poll included in the Real Clear Politics final average to predict Trump’s victory [2], had Clinton with a seven-point lead over Trump amongst Catholic voters[3].  To their credit, it was a seven -point victory, but in favor of Trump [4].  This accomplishment alone is impressive, and when cross analyzing data from the New York Times[4] Georgetown [5] and The American Presidency Project [6], the victory looks even more favorable for the President-Elect:


Year Popular vote margin of victory by party Catholic vote margin of victory by party (Exit polls) Net swing of popular vote and Catholic vote Net swing from popular to Catholics for or against Republicans
2016 D +1.3* R + 7 R+8.3 R+8.3
2012 D + 3.9 D +2 R +1.9 R+1.9
2008 D +7.2 D + 9 D + 1.8 R -1.8
2004 R + 2.4 R + 5 R + 2.6 R +2.6
2000 D + 0.5* D + 3 D + 2.5 R – 2.5
1996 D +8.5 D+16 D +7.5 R – 7.5
1992 D +5.6 D + 8 D +2.4 R – 2.4
1988 R + 7.8 R + 5 D + 2.8 R – 2.8
1984 R + 18.2 R + 9 D + 9.2 R – 9.2
 1980 R + 9.7 R + 7 D + 2.7 R – 2.7
 1976 D + 3.1 D +10 D + 6.9 R – 6.9
1972 R + 23.2 R + 10 D + 13.2 R – 13.2

*denotes popular vote winner different from electoral college winner

Over the past twelve elections, Trump is the only candidate to lose the popular vote yet win the Catholic vote, is tied for third largest margin of victory of a Republican amongst Catholics, had the third largest swing in his favor from the popular vote to any candidate and the largest Catholic vote difference from the popular vote of any Republican.  This blowout has left many, including conservative Catholics who voted for Trump as well, stunned.

Most analysts who have commented on Trumps victory with Catholics credit the fact that he is more in-line with Catholic social teachings on abortion and anger towards Obamacare’s mandate that Catholic organizations like Little Sisters of the Poor must cover contraception for their employees [7].  While these factors certainly did not help Hillary Clinton both issues played a far larger role in the 2012 election cycle, where President Obama still managed to defeat Mitt Romney.  In fact, the only time abortion was brought up in the debates was in a question on the Supreme Court vacancy left after the death of Antonin Scalia, and whether Trump or Clinton would appoint a judge to overturn Roe V. Wade, to which Trump said yes and Clinton said no.  Still, this was in line with most of the nominees from both parties in past elections, so it does little to explain the dramatic shift we see now.

The main difference in this cycle, some argue, may have come from the leaked emails from Clinton campaign manager John Podesta [8].  In one of the email strings released by WikiLeaks a little less than a month before the election, Podesta and progressive activist Sandy Newman discussed plans to “plant the seeds of revolution” within the Catholic Church to make the Church conform to a left leaning agenda.  Podesta also appears to suggest in the emails that this idea was the reason behind left leaning groups such as Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.  As the Catholic Church has spent the better part of the last century fighting against those who seek to use the Church as a political vessel, whether it be in Nazi Germany or Communist China, seeing the emails where Podesta openly floats this idea troubled Catholics on all sides of the political spectrum.

Another potential factor is President-elect Trump’s strong appeal to blue collar Catholics [9], particularly those who inhabit the rust belt.  These voters are hard workers who simply want to provide a good life for their families, yet have seen their communities decimated by the loss of manufacturing jobs due to lopsided free trade deals and overregulation. However, elites from both parties avoided these people like lepers and regularly (and falsely) smeared these people as unintelligent, racist and lazy.  That all changed when Trump came along, with a pledge to rebuild these communities and to be the fighter for them in DC they had prayed for.  This coalition of working class, populist Catholics has historical precedent, whether it be the Jacksonian alliance or FDR’s “New Deal Catholics”[10], and has proven to be one of the most dynamic political engines in the country when successfully tapped into.

Regardless of the potential reasons, Trump would likely not be in the Whitehouse without the support he received from Catholic voters.  Now, Trump has four years to prove to Catholic voters that they made the right decision in trusting him.  All that we can do now as Catholics is pray for his success.


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