New poll finds Christian support for President Donald Trump is slipping
Pew Research Center said that the decline in Trump voters did not translate to a ‘corresponding jump’ in Democrat Joe Biden’s numbers.
President Donald Trump still remains the front-runner among white Catholics, Protestants and evangelicals, but enthusiasm for the incumbent is waning in all those religious groups with Election Day less than three weeks away, according to the latest Pew Research Center survey.
The numbers show “signs of softening support for Trump,” Gregory Smith, associate director of research at Pew, said at a press conference Thursday. “Trump still leads (Democratic challenger Joe) Biden among all these groups, but the weakening of his support among these constituencies is notable.”
Since it is widely believed that the white Christian vote delivered the 2016 election to Trump, flagging enthusiasm within that demographic could signal trouble for his reelection prospects if the race is close.
Overall, Biden is ahead — Pew’s latest poll put Biden as the front-runner by 10 percentage points, with Biden at 52% and Trump at 42%. But researchers noted that support for Biden might not translate to a victory as the winner in presidential elections is determined by Electoral College not the popular vote.
There’s also the gap between who is registered versus who goes to the polls. “This data is based on registered voters, but the characteristics of people who actually turn out to vote can go a long way in determining an election’s outcome,” said Smith.
Pew’s nationwide survey of more than 10,000 registered voters was conducted in late September and early October, while Trump was in the hospital after testing positive with COVID-19. Participants were asked who they would vote for if the election were held today. Pew compared the most recent results to voters’ responses to the same question posed in late July and early August.
Among white Catholics, the gap was narrowing between the two candidates with a 7% decline in support for Trump and a slight boost in support for Democratic challenger Joe Biden, who is Catholic, over the past few months.
This summer, 59% of white Catholics said they would vote for Trump, with 40% picking Biden. The most recent survey shows support for Biden among this group at 44% with 52% backing Trump — bringing what was previously a large, 19-point gap down to a tighter 8 point difference.
Some white mainline Protestants have gotten off the Trump train, too. In the most recent poll, 53% of white mainline Protestants said they would vote for Trump as compared to the 59% who said the same thing in July and August — a 6-point slide.
While support for Trump remains high among white evangelicals at 78%, that too has dropped by 5 percentage points since August.
But Pew notes that the decline in Trump voters did not translate to a “corresponding jump” in Biden’s numbers. Instead, Pew did see a rise in support for third party candidates. This summer, only 2% of those surveyed said they would vote for someone other than Biden or Trump, while in this latest poll, that number rose to 6%.
Support for Biden has remained strong among Black Protestants, Jewish Americans, Hispanic Catholics, atheists, agnostics and religious “nones” with their numbers holding steady since the August survey.
Despite slight gains with white Catholics and the fact that 67% of Hispanic Catholics are backing the Democratic candidate, analysts with Pew cautioned against attempts to make predictions about the Catholic vote.
“Having a Catholic candidate at the top of the ticket doesn’t mean you can count on Catholic voters,” said Gregory Smith, associate director of research at Pew.
He pointed to the 2004 presidential election as an example, when Catholic voters broke from the Catholic Democratic candidate, John Kerry, and threw their weight behind Republican incumbent George W. Bush.
Smith added that when analysts look at issues like abortion, Catholic Democrats and Catholic Republicans follow party lines, not theological positions of the church.
The current numbers also indicate longer term trends. As America is steadily becoming less religious and less Christian, Christians continue to solidify around the Republican party.
The Democrats, however, have become the tent for “a large group of people from racial and minority ethnic backgrounds (who) tend to be deeply religious combined with white people who are not particularly religious,” says Smith, noting that atheists, agnostics and “nones” also tend to be white.
This creates, Smith says, an “interesting dynamic in the Democratic party.”