Trump’s campaign aims at consolidating his Judeo-Christian base

His numbers are up from 2016 among Jews, Latino Catholics and Mormons, but in some quarters there’s a definite lack of enthusiasm.

President Donald Trump holds a Bible as he visits outside St. John’s Church, across Lafayette Park from the White House, on June 1, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

(RNS) — President Donald Trump seems to be campaigning more on religion than anything else these days. He’s attacked Democratic governors for keeping people from going to church, assailed Joe Biden for being anti-God and bragged about moving the Israeli capital to Jerusalem.

And, as the campaign heads into the home stretch, Trump seems to be consolidating his Judeo-Christian base.

Let’s start with his faves, white evangelicals. According to the latest Pew survey, fully 83% of them support him for reelection (62% strongly). That’s up 2 points from the percentage that voted for him in 2016, and you could argue that given how much he’s delivered for them, he should be doing even better.

But four years ago, Trump won a bigger proportion of their votes than any Republican presidential candidate in history, and there’s every reason to think he will win by an even greater margin this time around.

Next up: Catholics. Trump hasn’t spent much time openly courting them until recently, doing a conference call with bishops on April 25 during which he claimed to be the best president in their church’s history and visiting the John Paul II Shrine in Washington on June 2 assertedly to promote international religious freedom.

But his unflagging support of the pro-life cause has won him the support of the American church’s increasingly anti-Francis right wing, and done nothing to weaken his support among the faithful at large.

Fifty-nine percent of white Catholics voted for him in 2016 and 59% support him over (the white Catholic) Biden today. Meanwhile, though fewer than a quarter of Latino Catholics voted for Trump in 2016, Pew found that one-third of them back him now. So much for imagining that his immigration policies would drive them away.

In this Oct. 12, 2019, file photo, President Donald Trump bows his head during a prayer at the Values Voter Summit in Washington. Trump’s appeal to religious conservatives is a cornerstone of his political identity. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

Like Latino Catholics, Jews are a strong Democratic constituency that has moved in Trump’s direction. In 2016, 28% of them voted for him, while 37% say they’d vote for him now. Not since 1980 has a Republican presidential candidate received a higher proportion of Jewish support.

Then, Ronald Reagan’s 39% was at least in part the result of the community’s sense that Jimmy Carter was no friend of Israel. That Trump is doing so well is doubtless the result of his fervent embrace of the Jewish state.

No religious constituency has in recent decades been more Republican than the Latter-day Saints, but Mormon support for Trump in 2016 was notably weak. That year, a significant number voted for third-party candidates, including fellow Mormon Evan McMullin. While Trump seems in no danger of losing overwhelmingly Republican Utah and Idaho, where Mormons are plentiful, Arizona is another story. Last week, Vice President Mike Pence was dispatched to court LDS voters in a swing state where they constitute a significant 4 percent of the population.

As tepid as Mormons are toward Trump, their level of support has slightly increased since 2016. Then, 56% of them cast their ballots for him. This year, according to a survey published in January, 58% support him over Biden.

Trump’s support has declined modestly in two large religious constituencies. Where 8 percent of Black Protestants, the most Democratic religious group in the country, voted for Trump in 2016, now just 5 percent support him. And where 62 percent of non-evangelical whites — mainline Protestants — voted for him in 2016, now 59% prefer him to Biden. It’s a safe bet that suburban women account for most of that loss of support.

If you’re the Biden campaign, what should you do to counter what looks like a pretty strong Judeo-Christian Trump phalanx? 

A new survey from PRRI finds that just 38% of white Catholics and 43% of white Mainline Protestants view Trump favorably. That suggests that despite both groups supporting Trump over Biden 59-40, their support for his candidacy is soft.

Together, white Catholics and mainline Protestants constitute 27% of the U.S. population. If I were Biden, I’d focus my religious outreach on them.

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