Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Catholic Voter in American Politics: The Passing of the Democratic Monolith

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Catholic Voter in American Politics: The Passing of the Democratic Monolith

Article excerpt

The Catholic Voter in American Politics: The Passing of the Democratic Monolith. By William B. Prendergast. (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press. 1999. Pp. xiv, 260. $35.00.)

Between the printing of this book and its official publication date,William B. Prendergast died. Mr. Prendergast, who served in the Defense Department and taught political science at the U.S. Naval Academy, The Catholic University of America, and the Johns Hopkins University, helped write four Republican national platforms and directed research for the National Republican Committee. The product of that long experience in government and electoral politics as well as in the university, this book opens with a sweeping, single-chapter "historical profile" of American Catholicism and then provides a close reading of the role of Catholics and Catholicism in every presidential election from 1844 to 1996.

The book has a thesis, expressed in the subtitle but argued with considerable nuance: After the 1880's Catholics repeatedly drifted from their strong Democratic loyalties, only to have the drift repeatedly reversed-by Al Smith's candidacy in 1928, for instance, and the accompanying anti-Catholic backlash; again by John E Kennedy's successful race for the presidency in 1960; to a lesser extent by Watergate and the lackluster races of George Bush and Robert Dole. But with each cycle the Catholic vote has become less and less distinguishable from the national average, no longer reliably Democratic in presidential or even Congressional preferences but without becoming reliably Republican either.

Prendergast has mobilized an impressive array of data in support of this thesis, but even readers not quite convinced or wishing to qualify it even further will find this a useful and readable synthesis of much secondary literature. The steady rhythm of presidential elections and the relentless rain of numbers and percentages occasionally induce drowsiness, but Prendergast knew the power of a good story, a colorful character, a memorable quote, or an apt example to put flesh and blood onto the election returns. …

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