Catholic Vote: So Goes the Nation

Yes, the demographics of American voters are changing, much to the embarrassment of Dick Morris, Karl Rove and other political “experts,”  especially those within the Republican Party.

Still, one guidepost stood firm on Nov. 6: As goes the Catholic vote, so goes the nation.

Preliminary exit-poll figures show that Catholics, comprising exactly one-quarter of the total turnout, backed President Barack Obama over Republican Mitt Romney by 50 percent to 48 percent. The latest breakdown of the overall vote (as counting of stray ballots continues): Obama, 50.6 percent, Romney, 47.8 percent.

This striking similarity is no one-time deal.

Four years ago, the Catholic vote went 54 percent for Obama, 45 percent for Sen. John McCain, as the overall totals came in at 53 percent for Obama and 46 percent for McCain. In 2004, Catholics gave 52 percent of their votes to President George W. Bush and 47 percent to Sen. John Kerry; among all ballots cast, Bush got 51 percent and Kerry 48 percent.

Still think this is a fluke?

Let’s go back to 1988, when George H.W. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis in the popular vote, by 53 percent to 46 percent. The split among Catholics — 52 percent for percent Bush, 47 percent for the Massachusetts governor preceding Romney as a presidential loser.

Cary Funk, a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, is quick to point out that these figures don’t mean the Catholic vote — decades ago a major and reliable component of the Democratic coalition — should still be viewed as ”monolithic.”  Like the nation at large, it is comprised of segments that can be dissected in various ways.

White Catholics, for instance, “have been leaning toward the Republican candidate since 2000” in presidential elections, says Funk. The 2012 exit polls shows them backing Romney over Obama, by 59 percent to 40 percent.

Counteracting this trend are Hispanic Catholics, growing in numbers and in their support for the Democratic presidential ticket. Obama won 75 percent of their vote this year, up from 72 percent in 2008. Meanwhile,  Romney garnered 21 percent, down from McCain’s 25 percent four years ago.

Looking more closely at white Catholics, the force both parties must reckon with, are the roughly one-third who identify themselves as political moderates. A Pew Forum report released in October said these folks “generally take liberal positions on social issues but hold conservative views on the role and size of government. These cross pressures may help explain why in recent elections the shifts in voting among white Catholic moderates have been greater than among Catholics as a whole.”

So it’s complicated, this universe of Catholic voters. Yet it keeps adding up to a cohort that mirrors the preferences of the entire nation.


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