A more accurate analysis of the 2016 presidential election than the preliminary exit polls shows that Hillary Clinton won the Catholic vote, so now I’m waiting for the spate of stories about how the Democratic Party should stop worrying about courting religious voters and hold strongly to its pro-choice position.
Clinton won the Catholic vote by 48% to 45% for Trump, according to an analysis of data from the nonpartisan American National Elections Studies by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. That’s compared to exit poll data that suggested Trump won the Catholic vote by 52% to 45%.
Now, as you may recall, Boston College’s Thomas Groome argued in a recent New York Times opinion piece that Clinton’s loss of the Catholic vote constituted a “watershed” and he counseled the Democratic Party to stop being so abortiony to retake the Catholic vote.
So, if Clinton actually won that Catholic vote, does that mean the Dems should double down on their pro-choice position?
Of course, Groome was correct that it was the loss of the white Catholic vote in key swing states like Pennsylvania and Michigan that really doomed Clinton. But the new analysis suggests that it would be foolish for the Democratic Party to restructure its platform around attempting to court the white Catholic voters who went for Trump because they’re a dying breed…literally.
The only age group that overwhelmingly voted for Trump were Catholics age 75 and older, who went for Trump 57% to 44%. The age groups roughly corresponding to Baby Boomers and Gen Xers split narrowly, with Boomers favoring Trump by two points (49% to 47%) and Xers favoring Clinton by two points (46% to 44%). But Millennial Catholics favored Clinton by a whopping 31% (59% to 28%), by far the largest split of any age group.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the white Catholics who heavily favored Trump in 2016 are what the gerontologists call the “old old.” With life expectancy hovering around 81 for white females and 76 for white males, it doesn’t take a math wiz to figure out that many of these Trump voters won’t be around in 2020 and most will have gone to that great election booth in the sky by 2024.
Similarly, the Hispanic vote went overwhelmingly for Clinton at 74% to 19%, for a massive 55% advantage. Of course, at least some of this can be accounted for by Trump’s hostility toward Hispanic immigrants and may not carry over to future Republican candidates. But young voters have a tendency to stick with the party they first vote for, so it’s likely that Trump has created a generation of Democratic voters among the fast-growing Latino population.
The election of 2016 also shows that contrary to some predictions, the pro-choice stance of the Democratic Party isn’t a turn off for Hispanic voters. And appeals to some “abortion lite” position is unlikely to sway those white Catholics who are committed to the Republican Party. As Mark Gray, polling director for CARA, noted of the results:
Party comes first for many Catholics and they then try to make that fit within their faith. I don’t mean that in a way that being a Democrat or being a Republican is more important to them than being Catholic. But I mean that at the ballot box, partisanship trumps their faith when they make their choice.
All of this suggests that the election of 2016 was somewhat of a demographic outlier, the last gasp of old white Catholics if you will. Millennials and Hispanics are the future of the Democratic Party. It doesn’t need to contort itself with appeals to conservative religious voters on abortion. Time truly is on the Democrats’ side.