Catholics and Politics: The Dynamic Tension between Faith and Power

By Kristin E. Heyer; Mark J. Rozell et al. | Go to book overview

6
THE MYTH OF A DISTINCT
CATHOLIC VOTE

MATTHEW J. STREB AND BRIAN FREDERICK

IN A JUNE 2006 article in Sojourners magazine, Maurice Timothy Reidy asks the question, “Who owns the 'Catholic vote'?”1 “Roughly 40 percent of Catholics are reliable Republicans, and 40 percent are reliable Democrats,” writes Reidy. “The rest could go either way. That makes Catholics the ultimate swing voters.”2 Reidy certainly is not alone in his assessment that American elections could ultimately hinge on how Catholics vote.3 It is not entirely clear, however, that Catholics are indeed swing voters, even if candidates and campaign strategists treat them this way. In fact, it is not obvious that a “Catholic vote” still exists. Several scholars argue that “religiosity” has replaced denomination when it comes to measuring the Catholic vote.4

This chapter examines whether Catholics are a unique political group by comparing Catholics and non-Catholics in terms of voting, party identification, and attitudes toward the Democratic and Republican Parties. While it largely avoids weighing in on the religiosity versus denomination debate, the evidence seems to indicate that Catholics are no longer different politically. We find that while Catholics were a distinct group in the 1950s and 1960s, today they are quite similar to non-Catholics in their political behavior and partisanship. It appears that Catholics have not been immune to the broader changes that have occurred among the American electorate as a whole.

The chapter begins by discussing the difficulties in studying the “Catholic vote.” It then looks at the fact that Catholics appear to be a group without a partisan home. From there, we review the literature that questions the distinctiveness of a Catholic vote. Finally, we conduct a few tests of our own to determine whether Catholics are different politically from non-Catholics and conclude with a brief discussion of what the findings (and the findings of others) mean for American elections in the future.

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