Religion, Politics Make Fickle Bedfellows
Turner, Darrell, National Catholic Reporter
Ralph Reed may be barking up an imaginary tree when he talks of a political alliance between evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics.
The two groups joined in helping people like Ronald Reagan and former Pennsylvania Gov. William Casey win victories at the ballot box and helped to deliver a conservative Republication majority in Congress in 1994 , but their differences are far more significant than their similarities, according to several researchers who study voting behavior of religious groups.
Furthermore, these researchers say, talk of a monolithic Catholic vote is unrealistic. "In analyzing the Catholic vote these days, I think you have to ask which Catholics, which candidates and which issues," said John C. Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute for Applied Politics at the University of Akron, Ohio.
In Evangelicals at the Ballot Box, just published by Prometheus Books, veteran political analyst Albert J. Menendez writes that "Catholics remain more liberal on most issues than white Protestants, but they have defected in large numbers to the GOP," as shown by their move 8 percentage points in that direction in the 1994 elections.
However, Menendez says, Catholics are still more likely than evangelicals to vote Democratic both for president and for Congress. He cautions that "Catholics are likely to be the losers in any alliance with evangelicals. Two evenly sized groups with such different cultures and divergent historical memories will not coexist as equals for long."
Fundamentalist strongholds in South Carolina went big for Pat Buchanan in this year's GOP primaries. And the Christian Coalition made a point to feature Catholic Republicans like Buchanan, Alan Keyes and Bob Dornan at its annual convention in Washington last month. But this didn't impress Menendez.
On the one hand, he told NCR, "Pat Buchanan would never win a majority of Catholic votes in any general election." On the other hand, he said, "evangelicals only like Catholics who are really Protestants."
Menendez said the right-wing Protestants who favored Buchanan in the primaries saw him "as a candidate who talked almost in an evangelical and fundamentalist terminology, who spent almost all his time in evangelical and Pentecostal churches."
Tom Smith, director of the General Social Survey at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, said another difference between evangelicals and Catholics is that the former have a much more ready conservative political base in their churches and organizations.
"One of the particular strengths of the religious right movement is that it does involve the leadership of many of the evangelical denominations," Smith said. "The ministers play a very important role. If you look at a group of conservative Catholics who are conservative on all issues, they can't bring in any comparable group of religious leaders."
Green agreed with the cautions voiced by Menendez and Smith but said this doesn't necessarily rule out some ad hoc alliances between evangelicals and Catholics.
Although most Catholics "are simply unlikely to join an organization like the Christian Coalition," Green said. "they may work together on some specific issues like the late-term abortion issue, and they may support some specific candidates. …