White evangelical Christians in the US again threw their support behind Donald Trump’s bid to retain the presidency in this week’s election, although there was a significant fall compared to 2016.
Exit polls showed that 75% of white evangelicals voted for Trump this year, compared with 81% four years ago. The group, which makes up almost one in five of the US electorate, carries significant weight and was credited with being a major factor in Trump’s 2016 victory.
The 6% fall in support for Trump between 2016 and 2020 may have been critical in key battleground states that are deciding the outcome of the election.
But in Georgia, where votes are still being counted in a tight race, exit polls suggested that 85% of white evangelical Christians voted for Trump, and 14% voted for Joe Biden.
There was also a significant switch among Catholic voters away from Trump to Biden, according to exit polls. Just over half of Catholics (51%) voted for Biden this week, compared with 45% who voted Democrat in 2016; and 47% voted for Trump this week, compared with 52% in the last election.
Both candidates courted faith groups during the campaign. Biden, a staunch Catholic, made frequent references to his faith and sought to overcome misgivings among Catholic voters over his pro-choice stance.
Catholics make up a significant proportion of the electorate in the key rust belt states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Overall, white Catholics make up 12% of registered voters, according to the Pew Research Center, with Hispanic Catholics an additional 5%.
Biden also paid special attention to black Protestant voters, who helped him win the Democratic nomination. On Sunday, two days before election day, he addressed a “Souls to the Polls” drive-in rally aimed at black churchgoers in Philadelphia.
In 2016, Trump won among all three major categories of white Christians – white evangelicals, white Catholics and white mainline Protestants – who form 43% of registered voters.
In this election, his white evangelical base largely held up, with staunch support from leaders of many mega-churches. In October, he announced that he no longer identified as a Presbyterian but aligned himself, along with many evangelicals, as a non-denominational Christian. He also praised evangelical leaders for keeping churches open during the Covid pandemic.
Scott Waller, professor of political science at Biola University, said on Wednesday that Trump’s presidency had pleased white evangelicals, despite controversies. “I haven’t seen anything the president has done in the last four years that has dissuaded evangelicals that he isn’t their man: his judicial appointments, his executive orders pertaining to religious freedom, the positions of his justice department in key issues,” he told Christianity Today.
Trump also courted Hispanic Catholics in the key battleground state of Florida, a move which paid off when he won its 29 electoral votes earlier this week.
Almost two-thirds (64%) of registered voters in the US identify as Christian, though the proportion is down from 79% in 2008. The share of voters who identify as religiously unaffiliated has nearly doubled during that time period, from 15% to 28%.
According to exit polls, 65% of people saying they have no religion voted for Biden, with 30% backing Trump.
More than three-quarters (77%) of Jewish voters backed Biden, with 21% supporting Trump, according to an exit poll carried out for J Street, a liberal advocacy group. In 2016, 71% of American Jews voted for Hillary Clinton, with 24% opting for Trump.
Muslims are a small proportion of voters nationally, but have a significant population in Michigan, which flipped to Biden this week.
Vote Common Good, a Christian organisation which has campaigned against Trump’s re-election, said that exit polls showed “a critical percentage of white evangelical voters abandoned President Donald Trump this year”.
It added: “In the crucial battleground of Michigan, Trump’s support among this constituency was down to 70%.”