Similar to past elections, religion played an important role in the 2020 U.S. presidential contest: Republican candidate Donald Trump continued to garner strong support from White evangelical Protestants, while Black Protestants and the religiously unaffiliated backed the Democratic candidate and eventual winner, President Joe Biden.
But religious identity alone does not tell the whole story. Among White Americans, worship service attendance remains highly correlated with presidential vote choice, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of 2020 validated voters.
As in previous years, voters who frequently go to religious services – defined as those who attend at least monthly – were more likely to vote for the Republican candidate in the most recent presidential election, while less frequent attenders were more likely to back the Democrat.
Pew Research Center conducted this analysis to better understand the connections between religion and Americans’ voting patterns in the 2020 election. It is based on data from the Center’s June 2021 report, which surveyed U.S. adults online and verified their turnout in the 2016 and 2020 elections using commercial voter files that aggregate official state turnout records. Panelists for whom a record of voting was located are considered validated voters; all others are presumed not to have voted.
We surveyed 11,818 U.S. adults online in November 2020, and 4,183 adults in November and December 2016. The surveys were supplemented with measures taken from annual recruitment and profile surveys conducted in 2020. Everyone who took part is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel recruited through national, random sampling of telephone numbers or, since 2018, residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The surveys are weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education, turnout and vote choice in the 2016 and 2020 elections, and many other characteristics.
Overall, 59% of voters who frequently attend religious services cast their ballot for Trump, while 40% chose Biden. Among those who attend services a few times a year or less, the pattern was almost exactly reversed: 58% picked Biden, while 40% voted for Trump.
However, these patterns vary by race. Frequent religious service attenders’ preference for Trump was apparent among White voters but largely absent among Black voters. (Due to limitations in sample size, results among Hispanic and Asian Americans could not be analyzed separately.)
About seven-in-ten White, non-Hispanic Americans who attend religious services at least monthly (71%) voted for Trump, while roughly a quarter (27%) voted for Biden. Among White Americans who attend religious services a few times a year or less, far fewer voted for Trump (46%), while around half (52%) voted for Biden.
Among Black, non-Hispanic adults in the U.S., by comparison, there is no such link between attendance and vote choice. Nine-in-ten Black Americans who attend religious services monthly or more voted for Biden in 2020, as did a similar share of Black voters who attend services less often (94%). Just 10% of Black frequent attenders and 5% of Black infrequent attenders voted for Trump.
Among White Americans, the extent to which vote choice is tied to frequency of religious service attendance differs by affiliation.
White evangelical Protestants have been among the Republican Party’s most loyal constituencies, and this remained true in 2020. More than eight-in-ten White evangelical Protestant voters who attend religious services frequently (85%) voted for Trump in the most recent election, as did 81% of those who attend less frequently. White evangelical Protestants tend to be more religious than other Christians by a number of measures, including in their worship habits: Two-thirds of White evangelical voters attend monthly or more often, while one-third attend less frequently.
White Protestants who are not evangelical, however, do vary in terms of the connection between religious service attendance and voting for Trump. In 2020, White non-evangelical Protestants who attend services less than monthly favored Trump over Biden, 59% to 40%. But among White non-evangelicals who attend services more frequently, the vote was almost evenly divided, with 51% favoring Trump and 48% favoring Biden. White Protestants who are not evangelical tend to attend church less frequently than their evangelical counterparts: Three-in-ten White non-evangelical Protestant validated voters say they go to church monthly or more, while nearly seven-in-ten go a few times a year or less.
White Catholics, meanwhile, follow yet another pattern. About six-in-ten White Catholics who attend Mass monthly or more often (63%) supported Trump in the 2020 election, while 36% supported Biden. Less frequent Mass attenders expressed less support for Trump (53%) and more support for Biden (47%).
Finally, there are White adults who are religiously unaffiliated, a group that makes up 26% of White voters overall. Historically, White “religious nones” – who tend to rarely attend religious services – have been trending toward the Democratic Party, a pattern that persisted in 2020. Two-thirds of White nones (68%) voted for Biden, while 28% voted for Trump. Nearly all surveyed members of this group (98%) fall into the infrequent attender category.
In addition to analyzing voters by frequency of worship attendance, the Center’s validated voter study also shows how religious groups overall voted in the 2020 presidential race. Trump expanded his support among White evangelical Protestants slightly, winning 84% of their vote in 2020 after receiving 77% in 2016, when he ran against Hillary Clinton. Trump held steady among White non-evangelical Protestants (57% support in both elections). He also received the votes of 57% of White Catholics, compared with 64% in 2016.
Biden, meanwhile, gained some ground among White Catholics, garnering 42% of that vote, or 11 points more than Clinton did in 2016. What Biden lacked in support from White Christians, he made up for with support from Black Protestants and the religiously unaffiliated. An overwhelming majority of Black Protestants who voted last year (91%) supported the Democratic candidate, as did a large share of religiously unaffiliated voters (71%). Biden’s support was particularly strong among voters who identify as atheist or agnostic, with 86% of voters in this category backing him over Trump.
Biden also enjoyed a strong advantage among voters belonging to non-Christian faiths – a group that consists of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and others – with 64% of these voters supporting him. That is twice as many as the share who supported Trump. (The survey did not have enough interviews with members of non-Christian faiths to report on each group separately).
Validated voters are members of the Center’s American Trends Panel who are confirmed to have voted in the 2020 presidential election after being matched to commercially available voter files. Read more information about the methodology used in this analysis.