Catholics Could Redraw the Electoral Map in 2008

The 2008 election could be won or lost on the Catholic vote. There are nearly 70 million Catholics in the United States, according to Mark Penn‘s estimates in “Microtrends,” and most of them reside in crucial swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and the Southwest.

More importantly, they have a track record of picking the winner. “In every presidential election since 1972 the winner of the Catholic vote has won the national popular vote, something no other religious group – Jews, evangelicals, Protestants – can boast,” Tom Schaller noted in his Salon article on Monday.

Catholics have historically sided with Democrats, but George W. Bush made significant inroads in 2000. “One of the untold stories of the [2000] campaign is how the Bush forces worked subtly through little-publicized channels to win over strong, tradition-minded Catholics, obviously with some success,” Michael Barone wrote in a 2001 National Journal election postmortem.

Bush barely lost the Catholic vote in 2000, but four years later he took 52%. In 2006, when the issues shifted back from guns to butter, Democrats picked up 55% of the Catholic vote on their way to a national rout. In 2008, Catholics will be decisive but it’s uncertain which issues will motivate them.

To be clear, the Catholics are not as homogenous a voting bloc as some other religious groups (Jewish voters, for example, gave Gore nearly 80% of their vote in 2000) and different issues will motivate different kinds of Catholics.

Schaller suspects that abortion could be a key issue and major thorn in the side of Catholic Rudy Giuliani if wins the Republican nomination. But if terrorism is the issue of day, Rudy could redraw the whole map, wooing millions of Catholics.

Consider the Carmella Soprano vote. My colleague Howard Mortman at New Media Strategies wrote earlier in the year that she’s a suburban Catholic “security mother” who sided with Bush in 2004. “If she hasn’t been whacked by the time of the 2008 presidential primary, which Republican would Carmela back? An obvious first choice is Rudy Giuliani,” Mortman reasoned.

Schaller calculated that a Giuliani anti-terrorism platform tailored to Catholics could unlock the Northeast for Republicans:

“Catholics cast at least 31 percent of the vote in nine Northeastern states: New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. Realistically, in a close election, only New Hampshire and Pennsylvania would truly be in play next fall. But both would represent GOP pickups, and Pennsylvania alone would be a crucial loss of electoral votes for Democrats.”

If the major issue “is the economy, stupid,” many Catholic voters could break a different way. Seth Gitell predicted in an October 23 column in the New York Sun that “It’s very possible that many Catholics voters will move back to the Democratic Party on economic grounds.” This could be especially true of lower middle-class Catholics voters in Rust Belt state and especially among Hispanic Catholics in the Southwest.

Gitell added that Hillary Clinton “has done well among upstate New York Catholic voters, a demographic that resembles other Rust Belt inhabitants.”

Both parties have candidates that can make a strong case in the Catholic community and both have issues that will win Catholics votes. Time will tell who is nominated and what issues prevail. But it’s certain that Catholics will be a major deciding factor in who ultimately wins the White House.

Catholic Adherents as a Percentage of Total Population

Catholic Voters


7 responses to “Catholics Could Redraw the Electoral Map in 2008

  1. This post doesn’t really explain how Catholic voters are any different from the electorate as a whole. The gist of it seems to be that if the election turns on terrorism, Giuliani will do well; if it turns on domestic issues, the Democrats will do well; and that Giuliani’s stance on abortion might eliminate the edge Republicans have on social issues. Furthermore, the author of the post suggests that the only states that might be swung are Pennsvlvania and New Hampshire – which everybody already knows are swing states. What about any of this is uniquely Catholic?

  2. I agree with the above post. Karl Rove understood “Micro-targeting” and I love how Penn uses “micro-trends” as he drives Clinton’s machine right into the ground. As a devote Catholic and having belonged to many parishes. The Pro-Life issue is huge. I understand that Catholics pick the winner, but I think that is more of a function of a “majority” of the nation leaning one way or another. As Rove said, wedge issues that you can drive against your opponent in order to achieve a great plurality of the vote. Never once was a Bush-Cheney mail piece sent out to just “Catholics”, like they were to Hispanics or other groups. It was always targeted at Catholics on conservative issues. (Pro-Life, Family, School Choice, ect.)

  3. By the way, I do enjoy your insight and your webpage.

  4. It’s not just Giuliani that may have trouble holding the conservative Catholic vote. A number of Catholic bloggers are having trouble with Romney. This Catholic blogger makes a case for being a little suspect of the Governor, and yes it’s on theological grounds.

    1) I’m not impressed with what Romney said, but before I go further, allow me to add that I’m not impressed with what John Kennedy did, either. Kennedy ran away from his religion in his speech to Protestant pastors in Houston, and while I understand the political expedience of what he did, I am fundamentally a person of faith and what I care about most is fidelity to one’s beliefs and not the political expediency of the moment.

    2) A lot of what Romney said–in fact the whole first part of the speech–was simply wrapping himself in the flag and picking up the tacit endorsement of the first George Bush.

    3) At one point in the speech, Romney states:

    There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church’s distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution.

    Romney needs a lesson in constitutional law. This is flatly false.

    Or let me rephrase: Romney either needs a lesson in constitutional law or he is deliberately misusing what the Constitution says in an effort to pull a fast one on voters. Your choice.

    The prohibition on a religious test for office that the Constitution contains is a prohibition on a particular creed being a legal requirement for office. In other words, it prevents Congress from passing a law that says, “To hold this federal office, you are legally required to be an Episcopalian” or “you are legally required not be a Catholic.”

    It has absolutely nothing to do with what decisions voters choose to make based on a candidate’s religion. To cite an extreme example for purposes of illustrating a principle, if I don’t want a Satanist in office, I don’t have to vote for one. …

  5. Why do I get the felling that Americans think the world only revolves around the USA. (one of the most undemocratic country in te world today. Russia is more democratic then the USA. Do people really vote on the basis of their religion? What happened to separation of state and religion?

    Time for the USA to review it’s electoral system and adopt preferential ‘Instantaneous run-off’ voting. Time to abandon the first-past-the-post system and update to a more democratic system of voting. People can read and write nowadays – well most of them.

  6. “Russia is more democratic then the USA.” Har har. If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. Democracy is about more than correct electoral procedures (for no procedure is perfect) but about maintaining freedoms and rule of law.

    On the issue of what constitutes a religious test, Steve is technically correct in that the constitution does not forbid voting based on religious affiliation. However I don’t see what religious beliefs have to do with 99% of the job of being President. Was Clinton – a pro-choicer – particularly Baptist? Was Kennedy President in a particularly Catholic way? How about Bush, who started a war, IIRC, against the views of the Methodist church. Being President is about setting a domestic agenda for the nation that is mostly about rather mundane fiscal issues, lobbying to get it passed, formulating a foreign policy strategy, and carrying it out. I don’t see much room for religion in any of this.

  7. i agree with Jeff. Catholics are as diverse as the rest of the population. Latino Catholics vote as Latinos and immigration might be their most important issue. Working class Catholics might pick the economy as their most important issue. Some Italian-American Catholics might turn out for Giuliani because of his name, but other Catholics, probably including most Italian-Americans, would judge him based on his record on issues important to them. The map that accompanies the post is instructive. If Roe v. Wade were repealed and abortion left to the states, predominately Catholic states like MA, RI, CT, NJ, NY, WI, etc. would have less restrictive abortion laws while states where Catholics are a minority, like UT, AL, MS, etc., just might ban abortion altogether.

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