Religion and Political Affiliation

By D'Antonio, William V. | National Catholic Reporter, October 28, 2011 | Go to article overview

Religion and Political Affiliation


D'Antonio, William V., National Catholic Reporter


Reports in the media based on national surveys in recent years indicate that voters see Republicans as more religious, or friendlier to religion than Democrats, in particular because of their support for core moral values centering on human sexuality and family life. Our survey provides an opportunity to see whether and howCatholics who are Democrats or Republicans vary in their religious practicesand in moral and political attitudes.

American Catholics are the single largest religious denomination in the United States (at just under 25 percent of the total population), and have played significant roles in American politics for many years now. The total number of Catholics in the U.S. House and Senate has now eclipsed all other religions, with 69 Democrats and 63 Republicans in the House, and 15 Democrats and 9 Republicans in the Senate in the current H2th Congress. Catholics have also been candidates for the presidency and vice presidency. In recent national elections, a majority of Cat&olics supported, the reelection of President George W. Bush in 2004, and of President Barack Obama in 2008. They played a visible role in the battle over the new health care reform bnl that passed Congress in March 2010. There is every reason to expect them to play a significant role in the national elections of 2012. The U.S. Catholic bishops have become an important lobbying group on issues ranging from abortion to nuclear weapons, health care, Medicaid, lifting the U.S. embargo against Cuba, the death penalty, and the economy. Their Labor Day statement issued Aug. 24, 2011, addressed the "Human Costs and Moral Challenges of a Broken Economy." Their statement calls Americans to get beyond political conflicts to confront the "often invisible burdens of ordinary workers and their families, many of whom are hurting, discouraged, and left behind by this economy."

This, our fifth survey, took place six months after the House and Senate elections of 2010, in the midst of the confrontation over budget deficits, spending cuts, and tax reform. This essay begins with a demographic overview of political party alignments in 2011. The 2011 question allowed respondents to indicate if they were strong, not strong, or leaning Republican or Democratic; undecided/ independent; or other. We have chosen to place those leaning either toward the Democratic or Republican Parties in their respective parties, reducing the independents to 3 percent of the total. These independents will not be included in this essay.

Overall, 57 percent of Catholics affiliate with the Democrats and 40 percent with the Republicans when those leaning toward one or the other party are included. The Democrats held a three-to-two lead before we included the leaners.

The "within generation" comparisons for 2011 show more Catholics affiliated with the Democrats than with the Republicans in all four generations.

Education and income figures reveal sharp differences (Table 15). More than half the Democrats had a high school or less education, true of only one in three Republicans. At the other end, more than one in three Republicans (36 percent) have earned a bachelor's degree or more, true of only one in five Democrats (22 percent). The income figures reflect these differences: Thirty-eight percent of Republicans reported incomes under $50,000; among Democrats it was two out of three (65 percent). At the other end of the income ladder, three in 10 Republicans reported incomes of $100,000 or more, a figure reported by 18 percent of the Democrats.

We turn now to the beliefs, practices and attitudes of Catholics who have identified themselves as Republicans or Democrats. No significant differences existed among the parties in responses to three of the four core beliefs that have consistently been ranked as very important to Catholics: Jesus's life, death and resurrection; the sacraments; and Mary as the mother of God. On the fourth core item, helping the poor, although a majority of both parties said this was very important, Democrats (72 percent) were more likely than Republicans (61 percent) to say this. …

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