Election watch: Catholic swing?

My husband laughs at political reporters who act like election night is the hardest night of the year because of the tight deadlines. As a designer and copy editor on the sports desk, election night is nothing compared to Green Bay Packer game days. That said, the Wisconsin races will be interesting, since more television ads aired between Russ Feingold and Ron Johnson in September than in any Senate or House race in the country.

As individual Senate and House races remain up for grabs, reporters look for broad trends to take the country’s pulse. Key coalitions that voted for President Obama may vote Republican, according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll.

Much of the election attention seems focused on women, especially with the number of high-profile races featuring female candidates. The Times reports that if women choose Republicans in House elections, it will be the first time since exit polls looked at the breakdown between sexes in 1982. This could be an important historical switch and worthy of coverage, but the poll’s accompanying story then focused primarily on women with only a brief mention of the Catholic swing. Click into this graph, though. Yes, that’s a potential 34-point swing for Catholic voters from Democratic to Republican in two years.

Remember that tmatt wrote about the expected Catholic vote in 2008, offering four different kinds of Catholics to consider: ex-catholics, cultural catholics, Sunday-morning american catholics, and the “sweats the details” Roman Catholic. So this group is hard to categorize, especially when you add region, age, ethnicity and socioeconomic status.

But this poll suggests 62 percent of Catholics say they will vote Republican in the upcoming midterm elections while 38 percent said they were voting Democratic, leaving a significant 24-point gap. Here’s Joseph Bottum’s prediction in the conservative Weekly Standard.

Catholic voters this year will likely break the way the rest of the nation breaks: Hispanic Catholics in one direction, white ethnic Catholics in another; Southern Catholics trending one way, Northern Catholics a slightly different way. Just drop the word Catholic, and you’ll have a reasonable idea where their votes will go. And in the remaining days of the campaign, the Catholic church itself will surely be attacked for even the least gesture of interest in the issues of the campaign, though none of that will actually matter politically.

But the vocabulary of Catholicism, that way of bringing religiously grounded moral claims into the public square, and doing so nonreligiously: It’s simply here in American electoral politics. Here in 2010, and for a good long while to come.

There will be no lack of election coverage, but between the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, the tea party movement, and the shift in women’s voting patterns, political reporters could easily overlook some interesting religion angles. Hopefully we’ll see some reporters pay attention to these numbers.

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  • Dave

    Bottum predicts that Catholicism will not be much of a predictor of one’s vote, more than being American does. Should the media proceed to the illuminating religious principles that don’t seem to matter?

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    The interesting thing is that most Catholic regular Mass goers tend to be more conservative on a number of key issues than those who rarely or never attend Mass.
    Some claim that is because of the priority the Church and regular Massgoers put on pro-life and family issues.
    Consequently, any attempt by the Church to even encourage the people in the pews to get to the polls can be construed as a defacto endorsement of Republican-conservative candidates.
    Thus being Catholic is not a predictor of how one will vote. But which Catholics are energized and eager to vote can be very important.
    On the other hand, sometimes many Catholics of all types don’t like the choices given and stay home.
    This all makes it hard for the media to come up with a simplistic “Catholic Vote” profile.

  • Joseph M. Smith

    Well, thanks for putting my name on the ballot.

    So why did you not mark your ballot for me … nice Baptist boy that I am?!

  • Peter Kaplan

    Speaking of Jody, what is he doing these days, now that he is no longer the editor of First Things?

  • Passing By

    #1 illustrates the overarching principle which would make polling and reporting on polling meaningful: control for practice and actual belief. This is, generally, more true when speaking of Catholics, perFr. Andrew Greeley, because we, more than others, continue to mark “Catholic” on the box whether we actually believe or not.

    Still, reporters won’t “get” it, because Catholic social teaching, economic and political, are more nuanced than “conservative” or “liberal”.

  • Fr. Eric

    Graph/chart from NYTimes/CBS shows that Catholics voted 2006-08 for Democrats, and the prediction is to go GOP in 2010. Does this indicate the Catholic stance on the war in Iraq/Afghanistan?

    As a pastor, my Hispanic faithful, mostly immigrant, are fearful of the GOP thinking only of deportation. Most cannot vote, if they could they have little hope in a democratic process.

  • Julia

    Fr. Eric:

    I spent time in France as a young adult and could not get a job unless I had official written permission of the French government. And I could not stay longer than the visa stamp in my passport. I was asked for that passport on several occasions. I don’t get the theory that anybody should be able to cross any border and live however they want.

    The same was true when I lived in South Korea.

    What is the basis for thinking the US should be held to different standards than the rest of the world? Including the more restrictive standards in Mexico for people from South of its border?

    I’m Catholic, so my opinion is not based on antipathy to Catholics. I’m a German-English-Norwegian-Swiss-French-Ameridcan Catholic. Why would a Hispanic-American Catholic think differently?

  • Michael

    What Americans need to realize is that “Hispanics” is NOT an ethnic term: it is cultural. European Spain was the Roman province of Hispania. Spaniards are white European people, many of Celtic and Gothic descent. MOST “Latin” Americans are Mestizos, or a mix of Native American (“Indian”) and European. Many are pure Amerindian. The “classic” example of this ignorance was once in Singapore years ago, a couple from Texas who had come back from a holiday in Spain, informed me that they did not see any “Spanish” people in Spain !!!! “Not like the “Spanish” people in Texas, they said, “only Eyetalian-type people”.
    I gave up : “Oh well” I thought, “When ignorance is bliss”….

  • http://sarahboylewebber.blogspot.com/ Sarah Webber

    What I would like to know is how many people are like me and live in DVR land and never, ever watch the commercials? I don’t read the fliers (they are instantly recycled), I don’t listen to the calls (instantly deleted). When I get my ballot, I sit down and read through (online) about the candidates (what they’ve said and what other people have said about them, voting records, etc.), I make my picks and then go vote accordingly.

  • Luis

    Fr. Eric,

    Our experiences often dictate our lives and opinion. From what you have written I think this hold true. I truly believe that you find your belief about immigration holds true to your experience. I would like to propose that there are also people who experienced and had to live with similar immigration laws that believe those laws were unjust. Just because it is a human law does not make it a just and correct law as in the case of legal abortion and other sanctity of life related laws. How would Jesus and his apostles have spread the Word if these laws were imposed 2000 years ago?