Pew: Hispanic Catholics largely favor Clinton; white Catholics split but lean Trump

This story appears in the Election 2016 feature series. View the full series.

by Brian Roewe

NCR environment correspondent

View Author Profile

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts to Letters to the Editor. Learn more

Hispanic Catholics, a rapidly growing segment in the church and a burgeoning voting bloc in the U.S., favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump as president by more than a 3-to-1 margin, according to the latest survey released by the Pew Research Center.

The survey, released Wednesday and conducted in mid-June, found 77 percent of registered Hispanic Catholic voters saying they would vote for or lean toward voting for Clinton, the expected Democratic nominee, compared to 16 percent supporting Trump, the likely Republican candidate. In contrast, the presumptive presidential candidates are nearly even among white registered Catholic voters, with 50 percent siding with Trump and 46 percent with Clinton.

The immense gap among Hispanic voters could be explained by the starkly different approaches the two candidates have taken to immigration. Trump has promised to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and crack down on immigration along the southern border, where Latin American countries are “using illegal immigration to export the crime and poverty in their country” to the U.S., according to his campaign website. Clinton has pledged to pursue comprehensive immigration reform that would provide a path to citizenship, keep families together and protect DREAMers and their families.

Clinton holds a 19-point lead over Trump (57 percent to 38 percent) among all Catholics who attend Mass weekly, whom Pew credited for largely driving "a notable shift" in voting intentions among regular churchgoers this election compared to 2012. At a similar point that election year, those attending weekly religious services supported Republican nominee Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama by 15 percentage points (Romney ultimately won the churchgoing demographic by 20 points). The current poll shows Clinton barely trailing Trump among weekly churchgoers, 45 percent to 49 percent.

Overall, Catholics favor Clinton to Trump 56 percent to 39 percent.

Those figures closely mirror the opinion of the general population, who prefer Clinton over Trump 51 percent to 42 percent when choosing only between the two major party candidates. The percentages drop to 45 percent Clinton to 36 percent Trump -- while maintaining the same margin -- when including other candidates; Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate, received 11 percent of the hypothetical vote.

A New York Times/CBS News poll, released Thursday and conducted July 8-12, found Clinton and Trump even, each with 40 percent of voter support.

The Pew survey was conducted June 15-26 by landlines and cellphones, and polled 2,245 adults, including 1,655 registered voters. That survey sample included 527 Catholics, with 348 of them registered to vote. The poll had a margin of error 2.4 percentage points for all voters, and 4.9 percentage points for Catholics.

More: "White evangelicals overwhelmingly back Trump, survey says" (July 13, 2016)

Voters listed their top-five election issues as the economy, terrorism, foreign policy, health care and gun policy. In their top-five, Catholics swapped gun policy (their sixth concern, along with Social Security) with immigration, placing it just behind health care and ahead of foreign policy.

The Pew poll found abortion ranked in the bottom four of 14 total concerns for all voters and all polled religious groups; 46 percent of Catholics viewed the issued as very important, placing it 13th among their concerns, between the environment (53 percent) and treatment of gay, lesbian and transgender people (42 percent).

Voters also reported higher levels of engagement this election cycle than four years before, showing low-teens percentage point increases in those who have given the election “quite a lot” of thought (80 percent), followed the candidates in the news (85 percent) and believing it "really matters" who wins on Nov. 8 (74 percent).

The increased engagement, though, aligned with a greater sense of discontent with the candidates. Fifty-eight percent of registered voters expressed little to no satisfaction with Clinton and Trump, with 40 percent saying they were fairly or very satisfied. The percentages are largely flipped from the 2012 election.

Fifty-seven percent of Catholics, and more than half of both white Catholic and Hispanic Catholic populations, said they were not satisfied with the candidates. About four-in-10 Catholics said they were very or fairly satisfied, whereas 58 percent of Catholics at the same point in the 2012 election expressed some degree of satisfaction with the candidates.

That sense of dissatisfaction expressed itself in the motivation voters attached to their support of their preferred candidate this election year, with Clinton supporters in particular more likely than Obama supporters in 2012 to describe their vote as against the GOP opponent (26 percent) rather than for their candidate (24 percent). In comparison, Obama supporters in June 2012 were three times more behind the president (35 percent) than against Romney (11 percent). Trump’s for/against percentages (17 percent v. 23 percent) align similarly with Romney (16 percent v. 24 percent).

Among Catholics, Clinton’s for/against split evens at 28 percent aside. Hispanic Catholics supporting Clinton, though, are more likely to describe themselves as for her (45 percent) than against Trump (32 percent). An opposite, though less defined, view appears among white Catholic Clinton supporters, with 19 percent seeing their vote as for Clinton and 27 percent as a vote against Trump.

A greater percentage of Catholic Trump supporters view their vote as against Clinton (21 percent) than for the Republican candidate (17 percent), mimicking their attitudes toward Romney in June 2012 (21 percent against Obama, 19 percent for Romney).

As far as the role of religion in politics and public life, the poll showed a 17-point drop between August 2008 and June 2016 in people viewing churches, synagogues and houses of worship as contributing at least some to solving important social problems.

Voters appeared split on whether houses of worship should express views on current social and political questions (47 percent yes, 49 percent no), but were more emphatic (66 percent) that they should not endorse a particular candidate. Regular churchgoers were more likely to support church’s expressing opinions on social and political matters (62 percent), as were those who registered or leaned Republican (53 percent). Forty-five percent of Catholics backed that viewpoint.

The percentage of registered voters believing it important for the president to hold strong religious beliefs has dropped 10 points since 2008.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

Latest News


1x per dayDaily Newsletters
1x per weekWeekly Newsletters
2x WeeklyBiweekly Newsletters