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Catholic vote key for Trump in Michigan

But will it be enough?

Seal of Michigan
Seal of Michigan

Seal of Michigan

How do I know this? Because on March 3, Mitchell Research & Communications released a poll that actually asked Republican voters more about their religious identity than whether they’re evangelicals. Conducted for Fox News in Detroit the day after Super Tuesday, it found that Donald Trump was supported by 52 percent of Catholic Republicans in the state, as compared to 42 percent overall.

Ted Cruz, at 19 percent, had the support of only 11 percent of Catholics. Marco Rubio, himself a Catholic, fared only marginally better among his co-religionists: 16 percent versus 15 percent. Catholics chose John Kasich at the same rate as everyone else — 14 percent. Ben Carson, then still in the race, was at 5 percent overall, 2 percent among Catholics.

Michigan Catholics are concentrated in the southeastern part of the state where deindustrialization has taken away so many good blue-collar jobs. This is the white population that gave votes to Wallace in 1968  1972 and became Reagan Democrats in the eighties. Trump promises to bring the jobs back, which is enough to trump anything Pope Francis says about immigration.

In Tuesday’s GOP primary, Catholics will be one-third of the vote and Protestants one-half. The Mitchell poll shows the latter more closely divided, with 33 percent for Trump, 25 for Cruz, 14  for Rubio, 13 for Kasich, and 8 for Carson. Evangelicals alone — 36 percent of the vote — put Cruz ahead of Trump by a nose, 31 percent to 30 percent. That tells us that non-evangelicals, i.e. Mainliners, have very little use for Cruz.

So what will happen on Tuesday?

Compared to Mitchell’s mid-February poll, Trump and Carson have held steady while the three other candidates all gained a few points (from the departed Jeb Bush and “Undecided”). In the meantime, the latest Michigan poll from ARG — taken on Friday and Saturday — shows a leap for Kasich from 17 percent three weeks ago to 33 percent, putting him out in front of Trump, who dropped from 35 percent to 31 percent. ARG has Cruz gaining a few points to 15 percent, Rubio and Carson sliding to 11 percent and six percent respectively.

If ARG is right — and Saturday’s primary and caucus results suggest that it is — the post-Super Tuesday attacks on Trump are finding their mark. Then, on Tuesday, Cruz will pick up most of the now departed Carson’s evangelicals, Trump will hold his his Catholic base, Rubio will continue to fade, and the governor from next door will get a flood of Protestants. That would leave Trump and Kasich fighting it out for first place in the mid-thirties, Cruz finishing in the low 20s, and Rubio falling into the single digits.

Update: A new Mitchell/Fox 2 Detroit poll, taken yesterday, shows Trump comfortably back on top, Kasich falling into a tie for second place with Cruz, and Rubio no longer in double digits. Adding to Trump’s robust Catholic support is improved standing with Protestants — including evangelicals. The big Kasich bump in the earlier poll may prove to have been an anomaly.