The Disappearing/ Reappearing Catholic Vote

Is there a Catholic vote? To say “Yes,” we need to see a significant number of Catholics vote for one … Continued

Is there a Catholic vote? To say “Yes,” we need to see a significant number of Catholics vote for one party. If Catholic voter preferences remain more or less 50-50, it means that Catholics are almost as likely to vote on way as to vote the other. Most pundits wait until the split is at least 60-40 before talking about a Catholic vote, (or a Jewish vote or an African-American vote). A 20% difference is the threshold for significance.

Are there Catholic issues? Does appeal to specific policies attract (or repel) 60% or more of the voting group? For Catholics, the election of JFK in 1960 as president was clearly an identity thing – he was one of us. Thus, there was a Catholic vote in 1960. However, when John Kerry ran in 2004, most Catholics did not vote for him. It may be that voting on the basis of identification is a one-time, first-time phenomenon.

Historically, a nationwide Catholic vote emerged from the ashes of the anti-Catholic rejection of Al Smith in 1928. Smith and Catholics had been seen as tied only to big-city machine politics, but the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt helped cement Catholics as a solidly Democratic voting group, with representatives in high places. Catholics voted for the Democratic Party because it upheld social justice church teachings on labor union rights, social security and relief for the unemployed. Although there were some complaints (e.g. Fr. Coughlin) about Communist influences, it was not until the 1950s Cold War that Catholics began to vote for Republicans like Eisenhower, usually on grounds of anti-Communism. This trend intensified with Ronald Reagan.

Those skeptical about a Catholic vote argue that Catholic drift towards the Republican Party was caused by rising economic status and living in the suburbs. Simultaneously, the II Vatican Council made sweeping changes, asking us to break away from a mental ghetto. According to this theory, the influence on Catholic voting patterns came principally from geography, class interest, and mainstream culture. In the 1980s, we witnessed the rise of so-called “Reagan Democrats.” They chose Republicans who promised to protect a hard-earned economic status and reacted against a Democratic Party that seemingly heaped importance upon racial minorities and urban problems at the expense of middle-class white persons.

I want to focus here only on voting patterns, not my preferences. It is clear that Republican strategists seized upon Catholic upward mobility by choosing to reshape their party as a defender of middle-class white people against liberal politicians who were said to favor Affirmative Action, welfare and huge spending for the urban poor and minority racial groups. The GOP also assumed the mantle of defender of the unborn and traditional morality, while Democratic presidential candidates seemed to be both secular and elitist.

The result? By 2004, Catholic voters preferred Republican George W. Bush over Catholic John Kerry, 52% to 48%. While this did not meet the threshold of 60-40 to deliver a Catholic vote to the Republicans, it did mean that there was no longer a Catholic vote for Democrats.

Curiously, however, there WAS a Catholic vote in 2004 among Latinos and Latinas. Just the opposite of Latino Protestants — who voted with nearly 60% for Republican Bush — about 64% of Latino Catholics voted for Democrat Kerry. In fact, after African-Americans and Jews, Latino Catholics represented the most faithful of Democratic voting groups. In a valuable analysis of 2004 data provided by Prof. Frank Ridzi of Le Moyne College, the Latino Catholics polled said they voted for the Democratic Kerry on account of his support of social justice issues like immigration rights, health care and opposition to the Iraq War. Latino Protestants, on the other hand, made abortion their main reason for voting Republican.

Writing before the results of the 2008 election are known, let alone analyzed, it is unclear as to whether or not there was a Catholic vote in this year’s presidential contest. I will be interested to see if in 2008 most Catholics followed the Latino trend towards Democrats on issues of social justice. Such a vote would suggest that Catholic America wants Washington to address more pro-life issues than abortion alone. Que será, será.

  • observer12

    If we get four more years without health care, with more layoffs, with more bloodshed in Iraq–in short if we have another disastrous Republican administration, we’ll all know where to look–right to the Vatican and all the Catholodroids of America, along with the right-wing Protestants, their partners in crime.

  • cannon1

    I am not a Catholic, but it occurs to me that in speaking of the “Catholic vote,” it might help to understand the various levels of commitment among Catholics. I don’t know, but I would guess that there is some correlation between attendance at Mass and voting for candidates who support Catholic teaching.I don’t think it is at all surprising that Catholics did not support Kerry in large numbers. Without speculating on Kerry’s faithfulness as a Catholic, it is clear that he publicly advocated policies that were inconsistent with or outright opposed to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

  • observer12

    The Catholics have too much power in this country and in the world. If we have four more years of hell, look to the Vatican, look to the Catholic androids.

  • observer12

    Better pull out the New Testicle and the Scotch.Btw., every commentator has remarked on the grassroots organization, the fact that this campaign was the best organized in US history, brilliant. Tribute is being paid everywhere to David Axelrod and David Plouffe, their genius, etc.Truth is unlike what the Christofascists and Islamofascists think, Jews have no power in this country. What they have is brains, social commitment, and a strong sense of JUSTICE. Comes from skipping the idolatry, cannibalism, etc. Guess all the bigots on this thread are getting it, albeit slowly.Both Axelrod and Plouffe are Jews.

  • Bill56

    I’m pretty sure Plouffe is a Catholic. He graduated from St Mark’s Catholic HS in Wilmington, DE.

  • Mary_Cunningham

    Observer Observer ObserverWhy are you are fixated on Catholics? Why do you and Spidermean love to post abuse on Catholic blogs? What is the matter with you? Spider once posted intelligently but not now. As for you…never.How I would like once…just once…to read something you have said without getting the feeling I’ve just gargled with raw sewage.

  • usapdx

    ALL RELIGIONS MUST STAY OUT OF ANY ELECTION IN THE USA. THE IRS MUST GO AFTER ANY CHURCH THAT FILES TAX EXAMPT IN 2008 RETURN FOR FULL TAX IF THEY VIOLATED IRS TAX EXAMPT RULES. THEY ARE THEN ALSO IN VIOLATION OF THE 7th,8th,&10th COMMANDMENTS. ONLY A FOOL WHOULD VOTE AS DRICTED BY ANOTHER IN THE UNITED STATES. FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND FILEING TAX EXAMPT ARE TWO DIFFERENT THINGS WITH A PRICE TAG. GOD BLESS.