Puzzling Out the American Voter 2016

Donald Trump’s “Locker Room Talk” tape wasn’t released until after this panel discussion, but even based on his other past behavior, it is incredible that Trump outscores Hillary Clinton by far on the question, “does the candidate share your religious beliefs?” Is it possible to make sense of the attitudes and preferences of American voters this year? The National Museum of American Jewish History presented a panel of journalists and academics to explain “Religion, Politics, and the 2016 Election.”

NBC Support by Religion.

NBC Support by Religion.

Political columnist Dick Polman and editor in chief of “The Forward” Jane Eisner were the journalists. The academics, all from the University of Pennsylvania, were Professor John DiIulio Jr. and Associate Professors John Lapinski and Melissa Wilde. Lapinski heads the elections unit at NBC News; DiIulio is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

John Lapinski presented the two charts provided courtesy of NBC, showing the public’s perception of the candidates’ beliefs and the public’s preferences by religious affiliation. The first surprise is that Donald Trump outscores Hillary Clinton by 51% to 39% on the question, “does the candidate share your religious beliefs?” Clinton’s religious belief has not registered well with voters.

NBC Poll Voters and Religion.

NBC Poll Voters and Religion.

The second chart shows Jewish voters continuing their historic preference for the candidate of the Democratic Party, with 75% supporting Clinton. The surprise here is that Catholic voters break narrowly in support of Trump by a 2% edge.

With Polman asking questions, the experts failed to offer much enlightenment.

DiIulio finds it surprising that Trump has not alienated evangelical voters “yet.” He points out that the Catholic total may mask a serious division between Hispanics and others. Trump is ahead, but DiIulio believes that he may be losing ground in this group.

Although his chart shows significant differences in voter preferences, DiIulio believes that the race will be tight as election day arrives and the independents make up their minds. He notes that ultimately voter party preference tends to outweigh individual candidates’ qualities.

Supporting this idea, DiIulio adds that the ideological division of the population is at a long-term high, both between social liberals and conservatives, and between economic liberals and conservatives.

Although Trump shows support in public polls, Jane Eisner says that she has difficulty finding Jewish journalists willing to write in support of him, who are needed in her view to keep The Forward balanced. Eisner predicts that when this election is over, journalists will reconsider “balance” and how they handle campaigns and candidates.

Eisner perceives that Jews worry that Trump will encourage intolerance and that they will ultimately be hurt. She notes that Trump fares badly with college graduates as well, and observes the number of Republican leaders who are refusing to endorse him. Lapinski responds with the view that endorsements really do not make a big difference to the ultimate vote.

The panelists pointed out an important and growing effect of early voting and other changes in the election laws. Although the traditional election day is still several weeks off, the vote is already pouring in where state laws allow early voting and liberal access to absentee ballots. According to Lapinski, President Obama won a 7% edge in the advance vote, pulling no better than a tie on election day itself. Finally, Lapinski offered the reflection that Republicans went with the insurgent, Trump in picking their candidate. Democrats rejected the insurgent, Bernie Sanders.

This evening program brought out excellent attendance, almost filling the Museum’s large auditorium.

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