The numbers don't lie
Hey, remember that time Donald Trump got in a high-profile fight with Pope Francis? Well, it appears that American Catholics might, and while that may not be the root cause of Trump's "massive Catholic problem," as diagnosed by The Washington Post's Aaron Blake, calling a popular pope a stooge for the Mexican government isn't a great first impression to make on a key swing bloc of voters. Blake calls Trump's weakness among Catholics "one of the really undersold story lines of the 2016 election," and has a chart showing how much better Hillary Clinton is faring among Catholics against Trump than President Obama performed in 2012, when, according to exit polls, he beat Republican Mitt Romney by 2 percentage points among Catholics.
That 21-point swing toward Clinton would be huge, though New York Times poll-cruncher Nate Cohn has some serious problems with mixing opinion polls and exit polls. Even if you look at just the opinion polls, however, Trump appears to have a big problem — Blake cites a new Public Religion Research Institute poll showing Clinton crushing Trump among Catholics, 55 percent to 32 percent, and a Washington Post/ABC News poll from earlier this month has Clinton ahead among Catholics, 61 percent to 34 percent. A Pew poll from July had Clinton beating Trump among Catholics 56 percent to 39 percent (with a 77/16 split among Hispanic Catholic voters and 46/50 split among white Catholic voters).
This is such a problem for Trump, Blake says, because Catholics make up about 25 percent of the electorate, versus, for example, 28 percent of non-whites, 29 percent of independents, and 10 percent for Latinos. Trump's Latino deficit is worth about 1 point in the general election, but "when talking about Catholics," he explains, "Trump is basically adding 5 to 7 percentage points to Clinton's overall margin. If 25 percent of the electorate is Catholic, Clinton is currently taking 14 to 15 points worth of that chunk, while Trump is taking 8 or 8.5 points. And this is a group, again, that is usually close to tied."
Why Trump is doing so poorly among Catholics is a matter of conjecture — and John Gehring at Religion News Service has some informed speculation — but since the U.S. elects presidents by state electors rather than popular vote, Trump should maybe be most worried about the large Catholic populations in Ohio and Florida. In Florida, though, Trump has one bright ray of hope, according to The Wall Street Journal: A "new influx of white retirees" is helping to offset the state's growing Latino population.