As election returns became more clear after 3rd November, polling data indicated President Donald Trump ended up with about 50 per cent of the Catholic vote, but the margin of white Catholics backing him was significantly less than four years ago.
This, according to Associated Press/Votecast data, cost Trump Wisconsin and Michigan, where he’d eked out one per cent margins in 2016.
Among white Catholics, Trump held a 15 per cent margin over his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, but that was a sharp decline from 2016, when that margin was 33 per cent over Hillary Clinton.
Did President-elect Biden manage to close the so-called “God gap” among voters who strongly identify with their religious faith?
Alana Schor, an AP reporter who covers faith issues, thinks that might be possible.
The former vice president “just wove this powerful narrative as a person of faith,” she said as part of a recent Georgetown University online panel. She called that “a big step forward for Democrats, who historically have ceded that ground.”
The discussion, “Faith and the Faithful in the 2020 Election,” was sponsored by Georgetown’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life.
On 7th November, the media declared Biden the winner of the election, but votes in some key states were still being counted and the Trump campaign has filed suit in several states challenging the method of counting ballots and claiming voter fraud.
Biden has garnered 290 electoral votes while Trump has 217 electoral votes. It takes 270 votes to win the presidency.
The presidential campaign was notable for its stark religious imagery, including photos and footage of the evening of 1st June when military troops and police cleared the way so Trump could stand in front of St John’s Episcopal Church across from the White House while holding a Bible.
The church was boarded up after fires were set inside it during protests, which turned violent, over the death of George Floyd on 25th May.
Trump followed that the next day with a visit to St John Paul II National Shrine near The Catholic University of America to promote international religious freedom. TV ads airing in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin showed Trump speaking at the March for Life rally on the National Mall in January.
Biden released a half-dozen TV ads in which his Catholic faith was mentioned. He also invoked Pope Francis on the campaign trail, quoting from the pope’s new encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship.
But commentator Mark Shields didn’t think religion had been that big of a factor.
“Joe Biden was better liked than Donald Trump,” he said, and “considered more temperamentally qualified for that office.”
Still, he marvelled at the ease at which Biden could mention his Catholic faith at campaign events. “He did it naturally. It wasn’t with an affectation.”
By contrast, John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic elected to the presidency, in 1960, was so carefully formal when mentioning his faith, “you would have thought he was ‘high church’ Anglican.”
Elizabeth Dias, who covers faith and politics for The New York Times, called the election “a referendum on the soul of the country.”
The AP/Votecast poll showed that about 76 per cent of white evangelicals supported Trump this time. They’d had, Dias observed, “this feeling of grievance and fear” based on their belief “that their place … was disappearing.”
But Dias said she wasn’t sure the election results were “a resounding defeat of their values. The country has a giant culture war going on, and we’re going to have to reckon with that in the coming years.”
Faith in America “is less tied to institutions,” she said, and the Black Lives Matter organisers were “a huge mobilising force across key states,” particularly Georgia. “I’m interested in how it attracted a lot of moral organising that we were seeing in completely new ways this cycle.”
However, one particular topic that has become a major concern is the issue of abortion. Despite Biden’s Catholic faith and the Church’s clear opposition to abortion, Mark Harrington, executive director of the Ohio-based pro-life organisation Created Equal, recently told Catholic News Service that he anticipates that under Biden and his vice president, Kamala Harris, the Department of Justice would screen all pending state legislation to make sure it conforms to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 decision legalising abortion on demand nationwide.
The Biden team has also vowed to repeal the long-standing Hyde Amendment, which outlaws federal tax dollars from directly funding abortion except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the woman would be endangered, he said.
Harrington also noted that they “are going to attempt to codify Roe into federal statute in the event that Roe is overturned.”
“Biden has already said he will sign an executive order restoring funding for Planned Parenthood,” he added, noting that Biden will likely consider New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a “pro-abortion” Democrat, for the position of secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.
In addition, there is speculation of another possible Supreme Court seat becoming vacant in the next year – presumably leaving open a seat on the court for a Biden administration to fill. At 82, Justice Stephen Breyer is the oldest member of the court.
“We need to remain vigilant and not get discouraged,” Harrington said of pro-life battles. “We fought through the eight years of the Obama regime and we’ll fight through the Biden-Harris years.”
Picture: Democrat Joe Biden speaks in Wilmington, Del., on 10th November 2020. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters).