Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Among U.S. religious groups, Biden’s approval ratings are mirror image of Trump’s

Donald Trump and Joe Biden in their first presidential debate in September 2020. (Jim Watson and Saul Loeb/AFP)
Donald Trump and Joe Biden in their first presidential debate in September 2020. (Jim Watson and Saul Loeb/AFP)

America’s religious groups are deeply divided about President Joe Biden’s performance so far, just as they were about President Donald Trump throughout his term. In fact, Biden’s approval ratings today are nearly a mirror image of Trump’s four years ago.

Among White evangelicals, religious ‘nones,’ Biden’s early approval ratings are nearly opposite of Trump’s

Religious groups that tended to disapprove of Trump’s performance as president, including Hispanic Catholics, Black Protestants and the religiously unaffiliated, mostly approve of Biden’s performance now, according to a Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults conducted April 5-11. By contrast, groups that approved of Trump in his early days, primarily White evangelicals, now rate Biden negatively.

For example, seven-in-ten religiously unaffiliated adults (71%) say they approve of how Biden is handling the job of president, compared with three-quarters (76%) who said they disapproved of Trump’s performance in April 2017.

How we did this

As President Joe Biden concludes his first 100 days in office, a majority of Americans have said they approve of the way he has handled the job of president. This post explores how views of Biden break down by religion. For this analysis, we surveyed 5,109 U.S. adults from April 5-11, 2021. Everyone who took part in this survey is a member of Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.

Here are the questions used for the report, along with responses, and its methodology.

At the other end of the spectrum, three-quarters of White evangelical Protestants (75%) say they disapprove of the new president’s performance so far, which is about equal to the share who approved of Trump’s performance four years ago (73%).

Catholics are not quite as unified. Around two-thirds of Catholics (64%) say they approve of Biden’s handling of his job, driven by strong support from Hispanic Catholics, 80% of whom grade Biden favorably. White Catholics are almost evenly divided in their approval of Biden, much as they were in their early evaluations of Trump.

Biden’s strongest supporters are Black Protestants, 89% of whom say they approve of the job he is doing so far. The April 2017 survey did not include enough interviews with Black Protestants or Hispanic Catholics to provide an early read on their evaluations of Trump, but their backing of Biden so far has aligned with broader partisan patterns, and they were consistently among the religious groups least approving of Trump over the course of his presidency.

Black Protestants, Hispanic Catholics and religiously unaffiliated Americans – also known as religious “nones” because they describe themselves, religiously, as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular – have long been staunchly Democratic constituencies. White evangelical Protestants are among the most solidly and consistently Republican religious group in the U.S., and they have grown even more uniformly Republican in recent decades. White Catholics and White Protestants who are not evangelical also have shifted in a Republican direction in recent years.

Biden is Catholic and often talks about his faith, but his fellow Catholics are divided along party lines in their views about his religious beliefs. Biden said in 2020 that the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision establishing a woman’s right to abortion nationwide should be upheld, which has prompted some Catholics to argue that he should be denied Holy Communion

Abortion isn’t the only divisive issue for Biden. Among White Christians in particular, fewer express solidarity with Biden’s positions on policy issues than did so with Trump’s. For instance, whereas 43% of White Catholics say they agree with Biden on many, almost all or all issues, 58% said same about Trump in February 2020 (before the coronavirus was declared a pandemic). Among White Protestants who are not evangelicals, one-third (34%) say they generally agree with Biden on the issues, compared with 56% who said this about Trump. And whereas just 15% of White evangelical Protestants say they agree with Biden on many, almost all or all issues, fully three-quarters (76%) said they backed Trump on many or all issues.

However, traditionally Democratic groups like Black Protestants and religious “nones” are indeed far more likely to say they agree with Biden on many or all issues than to have said this about Trump. 

Job ratings and issue positions aside, Biden is doing better than Trump among most religious groups when it comes to views about his conduct.

Across most religious groups, more people like Biden’s conduct than liked Trump’s

Across all the religious groups analyzed – aside from White evangelical Protestants – more people say they like the way Biden conducts himself as president than said this about Trump when Pew Research Center last asked this question in February 2020.

This pattern is most pronounced among traditionally Democratic groups: The share of Black Protestants who say they like the way Biden conducts himself is 75 percentage points higher than the share who said the same about Trump in February 2020 (81% vs. 6%), and the share of religious “nones” who say they like Biden’s conduct is 47 points higher (55% vs. 8%).

But even less traditionally Democratic groups give Biden higher marks for his conduct. The difference among White Catholics, for instance, is 22 points in favor of Biden (46% vs. 24%), and among White Protestants who are not evangelical it is 16 points (36% vs. 20%).

White evangelical Protestants are the major exception to this pattern. Only 14% of White evangelicals say they like the way Biden conducts himself, compared with 31% who said this about Trump in February 2020. White evangelical Protestants were Trump’s strongest supporters throughout his four-year term.

Note: Here are the questions used for the report, along with responses, and its methodology.