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Protestant, Catholic Views of Clinton and Trump Not Monolithic

Protestant, Catholic Views of Clinton and Trump Not Monolithic

Chart: data points are described in article

Religion in the U.S. is significantly intertwined with politics, making it no surprise to find that views of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are significantly related to Americans' religious identity.

This table, using a large amount of Gallup data collected from July 1-Aug. 28, shows how Americans who identify with broad categories of religion view Clinton and Trump.

Favorable Views of Clinton and Trump, by Religious Identity
Clinton Trump
% %
Protestant/Other Christian 35 40
Catholic 45 33
Mormon 16 33
Jewish 52 23
Muslim 64 9
Other non-Christian religion 48 18
None/Atheist/Agnostic 44 19
Gallup Daily Tracking, July 1-Aug. 28, 2016

The two largest religious groups in America today are Protestants and Catholics. For our purposes, I define Protestants as those who identify with a non-Catholic Christian religion. In this July 1-Aug. 28 sample, 49% of all Americans are classified as Protestants, and 23% as Catholics, meaning that these two groups constitute almost three-quarters of Americans.

Protestants, taken as a whole, are slightly more positive about Trump than they are about Clinton. In this sample, Clinton has an overall 40% favorable rating among everybody and Trump has a 33% overall favorable rating (although these data are from a big July 1-Aug. 28 sample, the average favorable ratings are almost identical to what we are measuring in our most recent seven-day average update). So, one basic conclusion is that Protestants are more positive about Trump and less positive about Clinton than the nation taken as a whole.

Catholics, taken as a group, are more positive about Clinton than the overall national average (45% vs. 40%). Their views of Trump are right at the average value (33%). One could venture an opinion that Trump has a relative "Catholic problem" as far as his image is concerned. (In fact, dealing with horse race data rather than favorable data, an article in The Washington Post recently did just that, talking about Trump's "massive Catholic problem.")

One of the realities of dealing with these large religious groups (as I discuss in depth here) is the fact that they are not monolithic entities, but, in fact, composed of many diverse sub-segments. Protestants are most easily divided, like Russian nesting dolls, into increasingly smaller denominational groupings -- hundreds and hundreds of denominations in fact. Baptists are the largest of these, but Baptists, in turn, can be subdivided into many, many varieties of Baptists. The same can be said for all other broad Protestant denominations. We don't typically collect detailed information about Protestants' denominational affiliations in our ongoing tracking (it's worth noting that trying to identify people's denominational affiliations with precision is not an easy process to begin with), but there is little doubt that, as an example, Episcopalians have different views of the two candidates than, say, Southern Baptists. Much like there is little doubt that Southern Baptists have differing views than Free Will Baptists or American Baptists and so on.

But I'm interested, here, in a different approach -- dividing up the two large religious groups based on race and ethnicity. Most blacks in America today identify as Protestants, and given the highly significant relationship between race and politics, it would come as no surprise to find that black Protestants differ significantly from white Protestants in how they view the two candidates.

Similarly, many Hispanics today are Catholics. In our July 1-Aug. 28 sample, 51% of Hispanics identify as Catholics while 25% identify as Protestants, with most of the rest not having a formal religious identity. (Few blacks identify as Catholic.) Since Hispanics differ from non-Hispanic whites in their politics, it too would come as no surprise to find that Hispanic Catholics differ from non-Hispanic Catholics in their views of the candidates.

Here, then, are the data comparing black and white Protestants as well as Hispanic and non-Hispanic Catholics.

Favorable Views of Clinton and Trump, by Religious Identity
Clinton Trump
% %
White Protestant 23 51
Black Protestant 75 9
Hispanic Catholic 67 12
Non-Hispanic Catholic 34 44
Gallup Daily Tracking, July 1-Aug. 28, 2016

Certainly, race and ethnicity make a difference in the political views of Protestants and Catholics. A slight majority of white Protestants have a favorable view of Trump, the highest favorable rating for the billionaire businessman of any segment. On the other hand, black Protestants have the lowest favorable rating of Trump, at 9%, tied with views of Trump among Muslims. White Protestants are way below average in their favorable view of Clinton, while black Protestants give her the highest favorable rating of any of these segments.

Hispanic Catholics, although not quite as extreme, have views similar to those of black Protestants, with a very high percentage rating Clinton positively and a very low percentage having a favorable opinion of Trump. Non-Hispanic Catholics, on the other hand, are more positive about Trump than about Clinton.

Thus, while it is true that, taken as a whole, Catholics are more positive about Clinton than about Trump, this is driven by Hispanic Catholics (about one-third of all Catholics). Non-Hispanic Catholics' views of the two candidates are broadly similar to non-Hispanic white Protestants' views. Trump doesn't have a Catholic problem so much as he has a Hispanic Catholic problem.

Views of the candidates among the other, much smaller, religious segments are, in some cases, more extreme.

  • Muslims have much higher than average positive opinions of Clinton, and very few (tied with black Protestants) have a favorable opinion of Trump.
  • Mormons appear conflicted. Over two-thirds of Mormons identify with or lean toward the Republican Party, yet their 33% favorable opinion of Trump is only average and well below white Protestants' or non-Hispanic Catholics' ratings. Even fewer Mormons have a favorable view of Clinton.
  • Americans who identify their religion as Jewish, 63% of whom identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party, are more positive about Clinton than Trump, but Jewish views are by no means monolithic. A little more than half have a favorable view of Clinton, and nearly a fourth have a favorable view of Trump.
  • The group of Americans who don't have a formal religious identity ("nones") are more than twice as likely to identify as Democrats rather than as Republicans and have a more positive view of Clinton than of Trump.

Overall, Trump has the most positive image among white Republicans, followed by non-Hispanic Catholics. Clinton enjoys her most positive image among black Protestants, Hispanic Catholics and Muslims.

One problem for Clinton is that those groups among whom she has the best image are relatively small. The largest segments among the groups examined here are white Protestants and non-Hispanic Catholics, and it is among these that Trump enjoys his most positive image ratings.


Frank Newport, Ph.D., is a Gallup Senior Scientist. He is the author of Polling Matters: Why Leaders Must Listen to the Wisdom of the People and God Is Alive and Well. Twitter: @Frank_Newport

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