Even before this week, Republican voters were split over Pope Francis and Donald Trump. In the 2015 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, we asked respondents to rate a variety of political groups and figures (including Pope Francis and Donald Trump) on a 100-point “feeling thermometer,” with higher values corresponding to more favorable evaluations.
Below, we divide the roughly 250 Republican and Republican-leaning respondents in the survey into two groups: those who rate Trump higher than Francis, and those who rate Francis higher than Trump. We then split respondents by whether they rate Trump, Cruz, or Rubio most highly on the feeling thermometers.
Two things are clearly seen in the plot: most Republicans (about 2/3) rated Trump more highly than Francis (this survey was fielded in late 2015); and Trump (naturally) wins the Trump greater than Francis group, while Rubio is the big winner in the Francis greater than Trump group.
Next, we look at which types of voters comprise the two groups in the GOP. We specify a binary probit regression model in which the response variable is coded 1 if the respondent prefers Francis to Trump, and 0 if the respondent prefers Trump to Francis. Below we present the effects of a series of variables (all coded to range between 0 and 1) in terms of the change in predicted probability of a Republican respondent being in the pro-Francis group.
Not surprisingly, conservative immigration attitudes most strongly predict pro-Trump dispositions, while education increases the probability of preferring Pope Francis to Trump.
Catholic identity has perhaps the most intriguing effect: whether or not Republican Catholics are more likely to side with Pope Francis over Donald Trump depends on level of religious activity and involvement. Those who are most active (in the top half of a religiosity scale comprised of level of prayer, church attendance, and personal religious salience) are more likely (about 35% more likely) than other Republicans (including less religiously active Catholic Republicans) to rate Pope Francis more highly than Donald Trump.
This might seem a fairly obvious finding (more active Catholics are more strongly committed to the Pope), but Pope Francis has also stood out in his appeal to non- and lapsed Catholics (the so-called Francis Effect). However, there is no apparent Francis effect (at least as it involves feelings vis-a-vis Trump) among Republican Catholics.