The 2020 Vote for President by Religious Groups – Other Faith

By Ryan P. Burge, Eastern Illinois University 

This is part two of a three part series on voting patterns in 2020. Part one on Christians is here

One of the true benefits of the CCES is the sheer size. There were 61,000 respondents in the 2020 wave and 64,600 in 2016. That becomes key when talking about the vote choice of many smaller religious groups which I will focus on in this post. Just for some perspective, Jews are the largest group analyzed here and they are 2.1% of the population. Mormons, Muslims, and Buddhists are all just about 1% of Americans. Hindus make up .5% of the sample, however that still amounts to just over 300 respondents. Thus, we have some reasonable sample sizes to explore small religious groups. 

Mormons were the true wild card for me in 2020. They had deviated fairly dramatically in 2016 from their baseline of strong support for Republican candidates. In both 2008 and 2012, they were strong supporters of the GOP and obviously Mitt Romney earned a huge percentage of their vote. In a normal election, I think that they are about three quarters for the Republican. However, in 2016 it was only 52%. The primary reason for their squeamish reaction to Donald Trump and the availability of a third party candidate. Evan McMullin, a Mormon, did particularly well. However, without a viable option this time around, the LDS community had a tougher decision. It looks like two-thirds of those third party voters in 2016 went for Trump this time around, getting him to just about two-thirds. That’s up fourteen points from 2016, but still below McCain numbers and well below Romney support.

The Jewish vote has been incredibly stable over the last four election cycles. John McCain got 28%, but Romney did slightly better at 34%. Trump took 27% of the Jewish vote in 2016 and did just slightly better in 2020 at 29%. It looks like Biden garnered the same share as Barack Obama did back in 2008. We wrote more in depth about the Jewish vote in 2016 here

American Muslims display a subtle rightward trend after a big shift between 2008 and 2012. In Barack Obama’s matchup with McCain, he won almost the entirety of the Muslim vote (95%). However, that declined noticeably in 2012, where he only got 85% of Muslms. It appears that Muslims may be becoming slightly more Republican over the last decade or so. Romney’s 13% in 2012 became 15% for Donald Trump in 2020. Biden did slightly better than Clinton did as few Muslims voted for a third party candidate. However, their overwhelming support for Democrats is a far cry from their voting before 9/11 when they were split between George W. Bush and Al Gore in the 2000 election.

I think it’s fair to say that there’s a trend emerging among Buddhists. In 2008, McCain had a very poor showing, only receiving 8% of the Buddhist vote compared to Obama’s 86%. In 2012, Romney did only slightly better, getting to 12%. However, Donald Trump did noticeably better in both of his campaigns. In 2016, one in five Buddhists voted for the Republican, although that was only slightly better than the third party support. Then Trump built on his 2016 numbers in his matchup with Biden – nearly a quarter of all Buddhists wanted Trump to get a second term. From 8% in 2008 to 23% in 2020 – that’s a trend to watch. 

Finally, Hindus display a fairly similar pattern to what we just saw with Buddhists – a steady rightward drift. In 2008, McCain got 12% of the Hindu vote. Romney did slightly better at 16% in 2012. Trump seems to have experienced some gains with Hindus, getting to 19% in 2016 (more on Buddhists here) and then to 22% in 2020. Again, this is a somewhat worrisome trend among Hindus for Democrats. Obama earned 82% of the vote in 2008 and that dropped to 78% for Biden in 2020. However, it’s worth pointing out that only one in two hundred Americans are Hindus, thus this shift is incredibly small in the grand scheme of things. 

There is not a lot of good news here if you are a Democrat. In all five of these groups, I don’t know if I can point to one where the trend line is clearly reinforcing support for the Democratic party. It looks like Mormons begrudgingly came back to the GOP in 2020 when they didn’t have another good option. The Jewish vote seems to be incredibly stable in support of Democrats, however. But in the case of Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus, the same pattern is essentially repeated: the Republican party is making small, but steady inroads with these groups every four years. Obviously, this is not a huge portion of the electorate as they only make up about 2.5% of the population overall, but it’s clearly a worrying trend when every single vote counts.

Ryan P. Burge teaches political science at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois. He can be contacted via Twitter or his personal website.

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