The GOP has high hopes for Hispanic Catholics. Ending Roe likely won’t help

by Philip Bump,The Washington Post

The reason the South flipped from blue to red in the wake of the civil rights movement was not simply that huge swaths of pro-segregation voters went from Democrat to Dixiecrat to Republican. It was also generational, as historian Chris Warshaw explained to me a few months ago: conservative older Democrats died and were replaced by conservative younger Republicans. The region’s partisanship was out of alignment with its politics. From the late 1960s until fairly recently, it came back into alignment.

For Republicans, the idea of partisanship being at odds with politics seems like it might offer other, more current opportunities. Black and Hispanic voters generally identify as less staunchly liberal than White Democrats, a reality that might have contributed to Joe Biden’s weaker performance with those groups in 2020 compared with Hillary Clinton’s four years earlier. If the GOP can figure out how to appeal to that more-conservative bent without otherwise alienating non-White voters, it might benefit from the realignment.

One point of particular optimism for the party has long been Hispanic Catholics. Non-Hispanic White Catholics are often stalwart votes on issues adjacent to religion, like abortion. In 2020, White Catholics backed Donald Trump by a 15-point margin; might the party be able to get similar margins among the heavily Catholic Hispanic population.

The aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade offers a cautionary note. In recent years, polling from PRRI finds, Hispanic Catholics have grown more accepting of access to abortion. And in the wake of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling last month, the percentage of Hispanic Catholics expressing opposition to overturning Roe increased by double digits.

PRRI’s polling compared recent views of abortion with a poll taken in 2010. In both polls, most Americans believed abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Twelve years ago, though, only about half of Hispanic Catholics held that view. Now, three-quarters do.

The religious group least supportive of access to abortion isn’t White Catholics but White evangelical Protestants. Evangelicals have repeatedly demonstrated themselves to be the most politically conservative religious group in the United States in recent years and, in PRRI’s research, are the only such group overwhelmingly opposed to abortion access.

This is in large part because the evangelical community is so uniformly Republican. From March to late June, there was not a broad shift in the extent to which Americans overall supported maintaining Roe, but among White evangelical Protestants, the percentage indicating opposition to overturning Roe fell from 46 to 30 percent. Among White evangelical Protestant Republicans, opposition to overturning Roe was cut in half, from about 2 in 5 to about 1 in 5.

But again notice that increase among Hispanic Catholics. In March, 58 percent of Hispanic Catholics opposed overturning Roe. In June, 72 percent did.

Some of this is a function of margin of error. Hispanic Catholics are a relatively small group in the United States, so there will be more uncertainty in polling the population. Some of it, too, is partisanship. In 2018, Hispanic Catholics preferred Democratic to Republican House candidates by a 44-point margin. White Catholics preferred Republicans by 20 points. Evangelicals, who made up six times as much of the electorate as Hispanic Catholics, preferred Republican by more than 60 points.

An interesting finding from 2019 PRRI polling is also worth pointing out. That year, the pollsters found a big difference in support for abortion between native-born and foreign-born Hispanics. Among those born in the United States, 6 in 10 believed abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Among those born in other countries, only a third did.

It’s difficult now and will be difficult after November to disentangle broad political views from Biden’s relative unpopularity and the disadvantage new presidents usually see in their first midterm elections. Democrats remain hopeful that the Dobbs decision will motivate their base to vote.

At the very least, it doesn’t seem like Dobbs is going to do much to spur Hispanic Catholics to vote the other way.

Philip Bump is a correspondent for The Washington Post based in New York. He writes the weekly How To Read This Chart. @pbump

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