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The Catholic Vote

In a post recently, I discussed recently released Pew Research Center data that including some interesting findings on religion and politics. Here's another: according to Pew data pooled from May and June, Kerry is leading Bush by a point among white Catholics. That may not sound like much, but in 2000 Gore lost white Catholics by 7 points.

Also in 2000, Gore carried all Catholic voters by 3 points, even as he was losing white Catholics by that 7 point margin. That suggests that a one point margin among white Catholics implies a substantially larger margin among Catholics as a whole.

And, in fact, a recent Gallup report, based on Gallup's late May and early June polls, does indicate that Kerry is running a solid lead among all Catholics. According to that report, Kerry leads Bush among Catholic RVs, 50-42. And note that Kerry has gained much ground since January, when Bush was carrying Catholics 56-42.

So what happened to Karl Rove's plan to tilt Catholics in Bush's direction by emphasizing Bush's conservatism on social issues like abortion and gay marriage? Well, it was always a suspect plan, given that Catholics as a whole hardly differ from the rest of the population in their views on issues like abortion. And, in general, there is little evidence that centrist and modernist Catholics, which is the overwhelming majority of Catholics–including among Hispanics–are likely to vote the conservative social positions of the Catholic church on issues like abortion or gay marriage. That was the assumption underlying Rove's plan, but it is highly unlikely to happen. Instead, polling data suggest strongly that these Catholics are far more concerned and moved electorally by other issues, such as the economy, Iraq, health care, education and so on.

At the risk of stating the obvious, Karl Rove doesn't look like such a genius anymore, does he?


I hope you are right on the catholic vote. I know my daughter converted when she married a catholic guy and told me a year ago that Bush was really courting the catholic vote. She can't stand him and will certainly vote Dem.

I read your stuff on TPM and will try and drop by here more often. So many good blogs, so little time......

I'm a Catholic and voted for Bush in 2000. However, I wonder where the Compashion went? He told us a lie to get elected and this time I will vote for Kerry and every liberal up for election in congress.

As a regular reader I have been buoyed by your positive assessments of the race over the last year or so. Like you, I've been looking at Bush's stagnant approval ratings as a positive sign despite the tightness of the horserace numbers.

However, while of the Democratic pessimism of 1992 and 1993 has been overtaken by cautious optimism your posts still reflect a 'yes we can' attitude. Here, for example, you show that Bush isn't doing as well with Catholic voters. Elsewhere, you reveal weakness among rural voters and Hispanics and even Bush's base. If all of this is true shouldn't Kerry be ahead by 30% or so?

I appreciate the sunny side and your writing was certainly a beacon during the dark days but tell it to us straight: what's going well for Bush? (or at least well enough to be tied in the horserace [which we all know is meaningless at this point])

Surely 9/11 shifted a lot of Gore voters to Bush. Who are those people? Have other voters moved to the GOP in the last four years?

I say all of this as someone who thinks Kerry should win in November. But I don't want to be blindsided if Bush is able to tap into a wellspring of support that leads him to victory. Thanks- I love your writing.

Interesting that Rove appears to have assumed that Catholics will vote in mindless lock-step, just like Republicans do. Fortunately, not every group pledges blind loyalty like the hard-core Repubs do!

"Fortunately, not every group pledges blind loyalty like the hard-core Repubs do!"

Not at all like blacks voting 90% Democrat, is it Chris? Perhaps you should have stopped after stating Rove erred in presuming that Catholics vote as a bloc. I agreed with that part of your post.

The reason 90 percent of African Americans vote Democratic is because the GOP has consistently treated them with contempt and worked against their interests. "Bloc voting" is hardly surprising in this case.

Point taken. But what have the Dems really done for African-Americans? Their votes are taken for granted because the constituency has nowhere else to go. The GOP does the same thing to the Religious Right. I was just calling Chris out for saying that this type of thing only happens on one side.

More on-subject: I think Rove is reaching too far with the Catholic voters. I agree with Ruy's analysis that Catholics are not much different than the rest of the population.

Of course, I also think it's far too early to tell if Rove is a genius or an idiot. I'll know better in early November...

Preston brings up a good point in that there is a frustration out there that Bush isn't down by alot more in the polls right now. Alot of other Dem's have expressed identical frustrations.

I echo his need for a reverse-analysis. Why are Bush's numbers holding up the way that they are? Is it the nature of the polls? or.. the fact that we are still far from Election Day? or.. are we still experiencing a 9/11 effect in his numbers?

What are Bush's strengths in his polling? I get the full picture on Bush's weaknesses and Kerry's strengths.. but what about the flip side?

My guess would be that this far out from Election Day, voters will tend to give their support to the incumbent President. They've supported him in the past and there's nothing forcing them to switch because the final decision isn't upon us yet. I feel that those voters will eventually abandon the President, but for whatever reason they haven't yet... maybe they're busy living their lives and haven't tuned in yet.

But the question remains... at this point where are Bush's strengths?

I'm always amused by Conservatives/Republicans who pull out the "what has the Democratic Party done for blacks?" card. I'll leave it for somebody else to link to the recent LA Times column which detailed the substantial economic gains achieved by African-Americans during the Clinton years, and I'm sure I could compile a list of all the African-American appointments Clinton made during his eight years in office. The assumption made by C/Rs when they ask that question is that black Americans aren't smart enough to determine their own best interests. I think they know their interests quite well and vote accordingly.

You should go beyond the polling to look at the election returns, which contradict the thesis that the Catholic vote is up for grabs. In 2000, the more Catholic the state, the worse the beating Bush took, pretty much across the board (Ohio being the major exception). If the Catholic vote is really that close, why were Mass., Conn., RI, the most Catholic states in the Union, blowouts?

The alternative explanation is that for some reason, Protestants in heavily Catholic states are more Democratic than elsewhere, but that violates Occam's razor, because there seems to be no reason for that to be the case. Also, New England, which is heavily Catholic, has a comparatively small black population, another bedrock Democratic constituency, which also accounts for much, if not most of the Protestant Democratic vote.

Adherents.com has a map of the Catholic population of the United States, ironically, with the largest Catholic populations in shades of blue: Note the resemblance to the "blue states" on the 2000 election maps. You can find it here: http://www.adherents.com/largecom/com_romcath.html

But the fact that the most "moderate and liberal" areas of the country are also the most heavily Catholic should suggest a pretty strong correlation. Conversely, the South and the Mountain states tend to be the least Catholic, and most heavily Republican. By the way, the best Democratic state (presidential) in the Deep South is Louisiana -- which is the most heavily Catholic state in the South.

The ten most heavily Catholic states are RI, MA, CT, NJ, NY, LA, WI, IL, PA and NM. Gore carried every one except LA, and Bush only edged him there, as opposed to routing him in Miss., Texas and Ala. The ten states with the largest absolute numbers of Catholics are NY, CA, PA, IL, TX, NJ, MI, OH and FL. Gore carried all but Texas and Ohio (Florida was officially for Bush, but both the news organization recounts and the exit polls at the time showed Gore actually carried the state). Hard to account for such a consistent finding other than demographics.

The Catholic Church is the largest denomination in the following 36 states:
Rhode Island (63%), Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Vermont, Minnesota, Michigan, California, Maine, Nebraska, Texas, Hawaii, South Dakota, Ohio, Iowa, Arizona, Delaware, Maryland, Montana, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada, Indiana, Florida, Washington, Oregon, Alaska (8%).

Gore carried 21 of them, and if you go to the beginning of the list, the larger the Catholic share of the population, the more likely he was to carry the state (14 of the top 16).

If the Catholic vote was so narrowly for Gore on the ground, one would expect to see a better split that 90-10 for the most Catholic states and 80-20 split for the states with the largest Catholic populations and 14 of the top 16 where Holy Mother Church is the largest denomination. In fairness, the latter is a bit misleading, because the Church does tend to be the largest denomination in most of the country outside the south simply because there is one Catholic Church and many Protestant denominations.

In fact, however, if Catholics split narrowly for Bush in 2000, then he won in a landslide because other evidence shows that white Protestants went heavily Republican and the Jewish vote is tiny. That didn't happen.

Reporting on this issue has been pretty superficial and should go beyond polls. If Catholics are indeed trending Republican, you must then explain why the most Catholic states are also the most reliably Democratic.

"However, while of the Democratic pessimism of 1992 and 1993"

Oops- that was supposed to say 2002 and 2003.

It doesn't pay to live in the past- I'm still waiting for the new Nirvana album.

I suspect Rove and company have made a serious miscalculation regarding how to increase the Republican share of the Catholic vote. From what I can determine, their strategy was entirely based on courting the clerical Hierarchy around matters such as stem cells, abortion, gay marriage and school vouchers, and they assumed that Clerical approval of these policies would result in increased Catholic vote. What Rove probably does not understand is that while these Bush positions track formal teachings -- in fact lay Catholic agreement with them is anything but complete. This became particularly evident recently when Bush apparently sought to get the Pope to push his American Bishops to get on the Bush re-election train -- something Catholics understood as underhanded and minipulative. Add to this Bush's refusal to meet with the Vatican envoy in the days prior to the invasion of Iraq -- and the Bush campaign effort to paint Kerry as a "bad Catholid" -- in fact part of the discussion on the Senate Floor last week which resulted in Cheney using the F*** word also involved Cheney calling Leahy a "bad Catholic" because he would not move certain conservative Catholic Judicial nominees. Taken all together these actions are based on the assumption Catholics vote according to authority, and that authority can be manipulated by a clever Rove. I think this a complete misreading of contemporary Catholics., and suspect many centerists or political moderates are profoundly offended by the tactics.

Thanks for the post - you hit it dead on. As a lifelong Catholic, including 15 years of Catholic ed, teaching in a Catholic school, raising 3 kids Catholic (also including parochial schools) and being married to an ex-sem for 30 years, I do feel somewhat qualified to say this. ..

The Church "jumped the shark" with the ban on birth control decades ago. I see that as the point in which there was a great disconnect between the American Catholic Church and what comes out of Rome. The ban on divorce, too, but to a lesser degree. And that made it easier to basically ignore a lot of other stuff that came down from Rome.

Yep, there are single issue voters - but even them, I think, come to it from a personal belief, rather than because the Pope says it. And they are vastly outnumbered, I believe, by Catholics who, like the rest of us, can figure out who we want to vote for and resent like hell having the Church insert itself into the process. The days of following Church teaching blindly ended decades ago. Even if the Pope and Church hierarchy and Karl Rove have yet to get the memo.

Re why isn't Bush doing worse/Kerry better?

I'm always amazed at the numbers of people who think Bush is doing a great job fighting "terror". This percentage seems to remain high, even while the respondents think his Iraq attack is going badly astray. Yet, Bush himself is always tying the two things together -- he attacked Iraq to fight terror.

I think this suggests that the increasing unease over Iraq has nothing to do with the rationale for doing so and everything to do with the obvious inability of our side to 'win' without suffering casualties. In other words, people don't like a loser, especially one that made a huge deal of having already won, only to have the enterprise reignite and turn into a full-fledged insurrection.

I think this sort of anger and repudiation would work against Bush if there were another terrorist act here in the US, too. People would be afraid, yes, but I don't think they would freeze like rabbits this time around. I think they would almost immediately be enraged at Homeland Security and all the big-talking blowhards of Bushland. They would see such an attack as yet another instance of ineptitude.