A history of the mysterious, enigmatic “Catholic vote”

Thomas J. Craughwell provides a helpful history of the Catholic vote, beginning with this introduction:

In a few days, the 2012 presidential election will be history. Your favorite television stations will not be clogged with campaign attack ads. Your phone will no longer be ringing with political robo-calls. The talking heads will move on to talk about something else. Your Facebook friends will stop lobbying for their candidate. Don’t pretend you won’t be relieved.

Of course, it won’t be over entirely. There must be the inevitable analysis of the election results. Invariably, somebody will bring up the issue of “the Catholic vote.” This is understandable considering the many years when Catholics were a fairly consistent voting bloc for the Democrats, but it really is time for the pundits to catch up — Catholics are just as divided on political and social issues as their non-Catholic neighbors. Catholics do not vote as a bloc anymore. Regardless, in this election, Catholics in certain states may be influential.

Days after the 2008 election, the Pew Forum published on its website the article “How the Faithful Voted.” The study found that 54 percent of Catholic voters cast their ballots for Barack Obama, 45 percent for John McCain. This was a swing back to the Democratic candidate — in 2004, 52 percent of Catholic voters supported George W. Bush, while 47 percent backed John Kerry (who, you’ll recall, is Catholic).

Some Catholic political commentators believe that Catholics will be a decisive factor on Election Day. George J. Marlin, author of “The American Catholic Voter: 200 Years of Political Impact,” told NewsMaxTV that he thinks the election will be decided in the Midwest states that once were centers of heavy industry. These states have been hit hard by the ongoing recession, and they have large Catholic populations. Obama swept all these states in 2008, but they appear to be in play now.

Frustration with the economy may cause Catholics who voted for Obama in 2008 to vote for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney four weeks from now. 

The wild card is the religious liberty issue. The bishops of the United States have asked the Faithful to stand firm against the Obama administration’s assault on the First Amendment’s guarantees regarding freedom of religion, but we won’t know until after the election if this issue influenced Catholic voters. That may be the most interesting post-election statistic. In the meantime, let’s look back to how Catholics have voted since the founding of the republic.

Read the entire piece, “History of the Catholic vote” on the Our Sunday Visitor website.

George Marlin, in The American Catholic Voter, wrote the following:

It has been the contention of this book that for most of our nation’s history the American Catholic voter has been an important contributor to the electoral process. For almost two centuries, the Catholic faithful have united to defend their political turf–their parishes and neighborhoods–and have tried to fend off political assaults from nativists, progressives, eugenicists, and reformers.

In the twenty-first century, practicing Catholics in the public square are quickly learning that while the opposition’s rhetoric may sound more sophisticated or scientific, the level of distaste for Catholicism is the same as in previous eras. Catholics are still viewed by the secular humanists as public villains and in their salons, anti-Catholicism is still an acceptable prejudice.

Today secular humanists are ecstatically confident they have the political upper hand and are busily writing obituaries for the Catholic Church in America. But now as in the past their prejudices blind them from several realities: While the number of practicing Catholics has declined in recent decades, the faithful still represent approximately 9 percent of the total popular vote. Since the bulk of these voters reside in key swing states, Catholics will continue to have a major impact at the polling booth and may determine election results.

The other point the secular humanists miss is this: regardless of the Church’s size, the faith will endure because it has always endured, its members still standing on the solid 2,000-year-old rock of St. Peter. And the Church’s faithful in America will continue to adhere to the tenets of Christ and, like St. Paul at the beginning of the Church, will “fight the good fight” to ensure that their voices are heard in the public square.

Read more on Ignatius Insight.

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About Carl E. Olson 1234 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.