2024 presidential election: See how LDS, other religious groups’ views on Biden have shifted

Lost ground among religious adherents could cost the Democratic incumbent vital votes in crucial swing states.

Joe Biden may be the most religiously observant U.S. president in generations — a good thing for the devout Catholic who may need a Hail Mary to improve his standing with voters of faith between now and November’s election.

According to data collected by the Cooperative Election Study, the 46th president has lost ground among adherents of nearly every major religious group — Latter-day Saints in particular — since 2021.

That year, nearly a third of U.S. members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said they approved of Biden’s job as president. By 2023, that number had dropped to 1 in 5, a shift that could spell trouble for the incumbent in, say, the swing state of Arizona, home to more than 442,000 Latter-day Saints.

“It’s hard to look at these numbers and point to any religious group that feels more warmly toward President Biden today than they did back in 2021,” Ryan Burge, associate professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University, said in his weekly newsletter summarizing the survey data. “There are some that have held steady, but none that are clearly trending in his direction.”

Latter-day Saints and Biden

President Joe Biden's approval rating with religious groups

That Biden’s approval rating has slumped among the country’s religious groups is, in and of itself, unremarkable. The incumbent has been underwater nationwide since fall 2021.

The real question, Notre Dame’s David Campbell said, is why the plunge — 11 percentage points — has been so steep with Latter-day Saints. Indeed, only Muslims, at 12 percentage points, saw a bigger decline in that period.

(Both of those shifts fell outside the survey’s margins of error of 7.8 percentage points for Latter-day Saints and 9 percentage points for Muslims.)

Campbell believes the answer has to do with the other guy.

“Latter-day Saints have never been very supportive of [former President Donald] Trump,” the political scientist said. “He’s always struggled [with them], at least compared to other heavily Republican [religious] groups.”

(Kenny Holston | The New York Times) Former President Donald Trump speaks during the first 2024 presidential election debate with President Joe Biden at CNN's headquarters in Atlanta, on Thursday, June 27, 2024. The former president and convicted felon has always "struggled" with Latter-day Saint voters when compared to other Republican-heavy religious groups, political scientist David Campbell said.

Given this, he posited that Latter-day Saints were probably more likely to have given Biden the thumbs-up in 2021 when the Trump presidency was still top of mind. As time passed and the memory faded, however, their answers likely began to better reflect their true feelings about Biden, not Biden in comparison to Trump.

“They are moving back to what we would expect from a heavily Republican group,” he said. “After all, you’re asking them about a Democratic president and one who has not been especially popular.”

Muslims and Biden

When asked what she thought was hurting Biden’s standing among Muslims, Satin Tashnizi, executive director of Emerald Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting and empowering young Muslims, didn’t hesitate.

The community, she said, feels “incredibly betrayed” by the current commander in chief and his handling of the “genocide of Palestinians” in Gaza, including the ongoing shipment of arms to Israel.

(Satin Tashnizi) Satin Tashnizi, co-founder and executive director of the Emerald Project, believes many American Muslims feel “incredibly betrayed” by President Joe Biden due to his ongoing support of Israel despite widespread casualties in Gaza.

“[As a candidate,] Biden expressed a lot of support for the Muslim community and talked about how Trump’s Islamophobic policies were unacceptable,” Tashnizi said. “It’s now crystal clear that there’s an inherent lack of value for Palestinian life.”

Of course, not all Palestinians are Muslims (and Muslims, Tashnizi stressed, “don’t only care about other Muslims”). But the fact that the overwhelming majority are means their suffering feels deeply personal, especially among those with relatives in Gaza.

“Our president,” she said, “is signing off on bomb shipments to kill people who are our family members. It’s soul-crushing.”

Jewish survey respondents, in contrast, logged a 1-point decrease in their view of Biden between 2021 and 2023 — well within the group’s margin of error of 5.3 percentage points.

What it all means for the 2024 election

In traditional campaign years, pollsters do not generally look to Latter-day Saints and Muslims to sway elections. But if 2024 looks anything like 2020, then the final result could come down to thin margins in places like Arizona and Michigan, home to sizable populations of Latter-day Saints and Muslims, respectively.

Even more worrisome for Biden, however, is the 9-point decline in approval among one of the most consequential religious groups of the 81-year-old’s victory almost four years ago: Black Protestants. These historically reliable Democrats are widely believed to have been pivotal in securing Biden not only his first term but also the 2020 nomination.

“Loss of enthusiasm for Joe Biden among Black Protestants,” Campbell said, “could be devastating for the Biden campaign.”

(The survey’s margin of error for this group was 3.5 percentage points.)

Other liberal-leaning groups that also saw Biden’s approval sink during the three-year period included atheists (down 9 points), non-white Catholics (down 7 points) and those who identify as “nothing in particular,” also known as “nones” (down 7 points).

White Catholics, who have mostly leaned Republican in the past 40 years, ticked up 3 points, while mainline Protestants, one of the country’s most politically diverse groups, held steady.

Nonetheless, at 39% and 43%, both groups “just don’t like him very much,” Burge writes. “And do I need to remind anyone that Biden is a white Catholic?”

(The survey’s error margins for these groups ranged from 1.7 percentage points to 3.3 percentage points.)

Polls vs. votes

Then again, Americans vote for candidates they’re unenthusiastic about all the time.

“On a survey, asking about presidential approval is different from asking who someone is going to vote for,” said Lisa Argyle, a political scientist at LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University. “It’s possible for someone to strongly like both candidates, or — as seems to be more common in this election cycle — to dislike both candidates. But that doesn’t necessarily give us any clear indication of whom they are going to vote for.”

(Lisa Argyle) Lisa Argyle, assistant professor of political science at Brigham Young University and a faculty scholar with the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said just because people disapprove of the sitting president doesn't mean they won't vote for the incumbent.

Still, Argyle said, it’s “unlikely” that Biden, who recently turned in a widely panned debate performance against Trump, now a convicted felon, will do better with Latter-day Saints in the upcoming election when compared with 2020, when a survey showed about 65% of U.S. members voted for the GOP nominee.

For her part, Tashnizi said she plans to vote for a third-party candidate this fall after casting her ballot for Biden in 2020.

“I just can’t do it,” she explained. “It’s not political; it’s visceral. Voting for Biden [or Trump] feels like betraying your bloodline.”