Donald Trump seems to be breaking yet another political tradition this election: the “God gap.”
In previous US elections, polls consistently showed that a person’s level of religiosity—how important their faith is to them and how often they attend church—was one of the biggest predictors in how they would vote. The more religious an American was, the more likely he or she was to vote Republican; the less religious, the more likely to vote Democrat.
But that correlation appears to be weakening, enough that some are askingwhether this year’s unusual matchup between Trump and Hillary Clinton will be the end of what political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell termed the God gap.
Trump only leads Clinton by four percentage points among regular churchgoers (49% vs. 45%), a “notable shift” according to the Pew Research Center. By comparison, Mitt Romney’s 15-point margin over Barack Obama in 2012 (55% vs. 40%) was much more indicative of the usual spread between Republican and Democrat candidates among weekly worshipers.
Similarly, George Washington University found that the difference between the percentage of weekly churchgoers voting Republican vs. Democrat spanned 40 points in 2012; during the 2016 primaries, there was less than 15 percentage points between the two, according to Religion News Service blogger Mark Silk’s analysisof the survey data.
This year’s demographic shifts are drastic enough that, for the first time in years, gender outweighs faith in determining how someone might vote, wrote Silk. (In June, Pew found that women who worship weekly are 15 percentage points more likely to favor Clinton (51%) than men who worship weekly (36%).)
The main factor: churchgoing Catholics. They slightly favored the GOP during the last presidential election, but with Trump as the Republican nominee, their Democratic support has risen 22 percentage points, reports FiveThirtyEight (based on Pew’s data).
Pew found that the move is more attributable to Trump than Clinton, (and not in a good way for Trump): the number of churchgoing Catholics voting mainly against Trump nearly matches the number voting in support of Clinton. For the Obama-Romney matchup, Catholic churchgoers overwhelmingly were motivated by support for the Democratic candidate.
Meanwhile, white evangelicals voting Democrat this year are dramatically doing so in response to Trump’s candidacy. “The share of weekly churchgoing evangelicals who support the Democratic nominee has remained nearly flat from June 2012 to June 2016, but their reasons have changed,” writes FiveThirtyEight’s Leah Libresco. “Two-thirds of churchgoing evangelical Obama supporters described their vote as ‘for Obama’ rather than ‘against Romney,’ but the proportions are exactly flipped for Clinton.”