Historian George J. Marlin, the author of American Catholic Voter: 200 Years of Political Impact, among other works, pointed out that Catholic voters put Donald Trump over the top in the crucial Midwestern states, including Michigan and Wisconsin. In an article at The Catholic Thing, Marlin hastens to say that Catholics are no longer a monolithic bloc of voters. He wrote, ”Over 90 percent of Catholic ‘Greatest Generation’ Reagan Democrats have gone on to their heavenly reward and many of their children and grandchildren are no longer practicing Catholics.” Generic exit polls, he wrote, do not accurately reflect the views of practicing Catholics or their impact on presidential elections.
Revelations of internal discussions within the Clinton in which Catholics and other Christians were disparaged by campaign staff, as well as appeals by Hillary Clinton that the Catholic Church must update its teachings to accord with the Democratic Party, as well as intromissions by Obamacare into Catholic hospitals, did nothing to ensure the popularity of the Democratic Party's candidate among Catholics.
Marlin wrote that surveys since Trump’s electoral victory indicate that he did carry the “generic Catholic vote” by 52 to 48 percent.” For Marlin, “the real story this year is about Catholics in the economically depressed Rustbelt states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.”
Aging Catholics who attend church, he writes, “disproportionately represented, because their children and grandchildren have moved to more economically prosperous regions.” He argues that “the one or two percent difference that practicing Catholics can make would determine a presidential election. And that’s exactly what happened on November 8.”
The New York Times and the WikiLeaks hacking organization have revealed that Hillary Clinton and her campaign was so certain of sweeping the Midwest that they abandoned members of the white working class that had supported Bill Clinton in 1992. When Bill Clinton recommended that Hillary Clinton give a speech on St. Patrick’s Day at Notre Dame University, according to the New York Times, the campaign refused by arguing that “white Catholics were not the audience she needed to spend time reaching out to.”
“Ceding the white working-class Catholic vote and then calling them irredeemable deplorables were fatal mistakes that cost Mrs. Clinton the election,” wrote Marlin.
The key to Trump’s victory was Pennsylvania and its 20 votes in the Electoral College. Over 25% of Pennsylvanians claim the Roman Catholic Church as their own. But while Barack Obama won an average of 47% of the 2012 vote in the most Catholic counties in the Key Stone State, Clinton garnered by 42.5% in the 20 most Catholic counties there.
Hillary Clinton fared poorly in the poorer parts of Pennsylvania. In wealthy Delaware County, she pulled in 59% of the vote -- just one one percentage point down from Obama’s 2012 score. But in working-class Cambria and Elk counties, she won but 11 and 15 points, respectively. According to City-Data.com, Cambria County’s population is 45.1% Catholic, while Elk County is 70.1% Catholic.
In Ohio, Clinton did not meet the mark either. She underperformed Obama in 14 of the Buckeye State’s 15 most Catholic counties. In Mahoning County, a bastion of labor organizing, she got 49% of the vote as opposed to the 63% Obama got in 2012.
The Catholic vote was crucial in Michigan, too. Trump won by but 11,837 votes and received Michigan’s 16 Electoral College votes. Support for Clinton was 10 points or lower than the support Obama received in 2012 when he swept the state. On the eastern side of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, St. Clair County gave up only 31% support for Clinton, while Obama racked up 45% in 2012. It was worse in remote Menominee County in the upper peninsula which saw a drop of 15% for the Democratic candidate. Michigan had not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1998.
Michigan’s economy has been the buckle of the Rustbelt for decades. Failure on the part of labor unions and management to update and beat back foreign competitors has resulted in layoffs of thousands of workers and a resultant outmigration from the state, which has caused serious shortfalls for government revenues and the bottom lines of businesses. And despite being hit hard by the Great Recession, Marlin wrote, "blue-collar Catholics, many of whom are churchgoers, continued to vote along cultural lines." He said a microcosm of Catholic voters is to be found in Macomb County, near Detroit. The blue-collar voters of Macomb long ago became “Reagan Democrats.”
Marlin wrote that Democratic presidential candidates have won three times in Michigan since 1988. In 2004, for example, John Kerry (a Catholic) received more than 50 percent of the vote in only three of the top twenty Catholic counties. "Obama exceeded 50 percent in 9 of those counties in 2008 and 6 of them in 2012. This year, Hillary Clinton exceeded 50 percent in only one: Oakland, which is a traditional Democratic enclave and 56 percent African-American." This year, Trump carried Macomb County at 56 percent. Trump won 224,589 votes as opposed to Mitt Romney’s 208,016 in 2012. Clinton’s vote was 176,238, or about 10 percent down from Obama’s previous total of 191,913.
"The increase of white blue-collar Catholic voters (and a decrease in African-American turnout)," wrote Marlin, "caused Mrs. Clinton to lose Michigan by 11,000 votes out of 4.5 million cast."
Trump scored his most surprising win in Wisconsin, but by a razor-thin margin. There, Clinton lost by just 27,389 votes, giving Trump 10 electoral votes. It was the first time Wisconsin had voted for a Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan’s landslide in 1984. In the Badger State, Clinton won more than 50% of the votes in only 5 of the state’s 31 most Catholic counties. It was thus a huge defeat for her among Catholics: in 2012, Obama 24 and then 14 of those same counties.
Writing in the UK-based Catholic Herald, Rev. Alexander Lucie-Smith wrote of Trump's victory and its impact on the Catholic Church:
"The Trump victory means many things, but one thing most can surely agree on: it is a rejection of the political class, of the elites. Things will now look dangerous for the Church if she is seen to be on the side of the elites. A lot of people voted for Trump, a lot of working class people. The Church must not lose touch with them."