Exit polls show few changes in the religious vote

Support for President Donald Trump among white evangelicals remained constant. Catholics split their vote. And non-Christians voted overwhelmingly for Joe Biden.

(RNS) — Polling predictions frustrated and mystified voters on election night, as they did four years ago, when now-President Donald Trump far exceeded the prognosticators’ expectations.

One area where this year’s polls were mostly in line with expectations, however, is religion.

Exit polls conducted with voters by Edison Research for the National Election Pool and by AP VoteCast show that white evangelicals and Catholics changed their minds very little from 2016.

Support for Trump among white evangelicals remained constant (82%), according to VoteCast, but somewhat lower in the NEP exit poll (76%) —  in keeping with 2016 results.

Likewise, Catholics, who evenly split their vote in 2016, were also split between Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden this year.

Trump got 47% of the overall Catholic vote this time, according to the NEP, and 50%, according to VoteCast.

“In recent elections Catholics are pretty evenly divided,” said Mark Gray, director of Catholic polls and senior research associate at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

Chart courtesy of Public Religion Research Institute

Even Biden’s Catholic faith did little to sway Catholic voters. “Ever since Kennedy, Catholics have been no more likely to vote for a Catholic candidate than a non-Catholic candidate,” said Gray.

The VoteCast exit poll found that 68% of Jews favored Biden and 64% of Muslims did so — roughly in line with past elections. (GBAO Strategies, which often polls American Jews, found that 77% of Jews voted for Biden.)

Unaffiliated Americans or people of no religion favored Biden to Trump 65% to 30% in the NEP exit poll and 72% to 26% in the VoteCast poll.

“There’s very little that’s shifted,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute.

Neither, Jones noted, have Christians’ stark racial divides.

Blacks and Hispanics — groups that are both overwhelmingly Christian — favored Biden by large margins. And exit polls showed overwhelming differences on a range of questions about Black Lives Matter, the criminal justice system and racism. Trump supporters, by overwhelming numbers, had unfavorable views of Black Lives Matter and felt the criminal justice system was fair and racism a minor problem.

Chart courtesy of Public Religion Research Institute

Those divides have become so expected, said Jones, that we no longer reflect on them.

The VoteCast poll also asked about the frequency of worship attendance. It found that 61% of people who say they attend worship at least weekly voted for Trump, versus 37% who voted for Biden. Those who worship once a month went for Trump over Biden 54% to 45%.

“This suggests to me the level of polarization based on religiosity is still very important,” said John Green, director emeritus of the Ray C. Bliss Institute for Applied Politics at the University of Akron.

Among less-frequent worship attenders, 57% voted for Biden; 41% for Trump.