Santorum and the mythical “women’s vote”

Anyone who has followed American politics since, oh, roughly 1973, knows that one of most consistent patterns, election after election, is this: The more people attend worship services, the more likely they are to vote for candidates who are moral and cultural conservatives. This is a clear pattern among white voters and if you are looking for conservative voters among African-American and Latino voters, you are most likely to find them — as a vocal minority — in their churches.

This isn’t a “God gap.”

It’s a “pew gap,” it’s a gap of religious participation, not professed belief. You move the “pew gap” even one or two percentage points and it can make a big difference in key Midwestern states. Ask Barack Obama about that.

At this point, it’s pretty clear that the cracks in the mythical “Catholic vote” are also linked to the “pew cap.” The more Catholics — especially white Catholics — go to Mass, the more likely they are to vote for culturally conservative candidates. In parts of the country, this is not a clear GOP vs. Democrat issue, although the health-care wars cleared out several key traditional Catholic Democrats.

Whenever you read a story about the “Catholic vote,” it pays to read to the end and see if the pollsters included a question about Mass attendance. It’s amazing how few pollsters have spotted the need for that question. I, for one, would like to see at least one poll that dared to ask Catholics how often they go to confession.

Meanwhile, note this interesting passage in a National Catholic Register story about the contests between conservative Catholic Rick Santorum and moderate Mormon Mitt Romney, who keeps winning the mythical “Catholic vote.” In these matters, it is always wise to listen to John Green.

According to John Green, political science director at the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, there are several theories about why Santorum has appealed more to evangelicals than to his fellow Catholics, though no polling has asked the right questions to prove any of them. “They could all be true,” he said.

One explanation is that evangelicals are generally more conservative on social issues than most Catholics, as is Santorum himself. The former Pennsylvania senator may well be outpolling Romney among a minority of Catholics who are traditional in their moral theology, while Romney is doing better with more secularized Catholics or those who are Republican because of their economic rather than their social views.

It is highly likely that these “pew gap” issues are lurking between the lines of that New York Times story about the fact that — you can sense the shock in this one — the Santorum campaign is staying alive because he is winning the votes of so many Republican women.

What, pray tell, is that all about? Here’s the key summary material:

There is no mistaking the bond that Mr. Santorum has with conservative women — particularly married women — a group that has formed a core of his support since the primaries began in January. He has handily carried the votes of women in primaries that he has won, including those in Mississippi and Alabama. And where he has lost, in Arizona, South Carolina and Illinois, he has enjoyed a higher level of support among women than men.

Even as it becomes increasingly clear that Mr. Santorum, who is lagging behind Mitt Romney in both the delegate and money race, will probably remain the runner-up and not the nominee, women who support him say they still will have sent a message about values, and console themselves with the fact that the candidate, who is 53, is young enough to run in 2016. …

The Web site ricksantorum.com attracts more women than men, 60 percent of its visitors, a larger share than for the Web sites of other candidates, according to Nielsen ratings that were released last week. Among other things, there may be an empathy factor at work: A New York Times/CBS News poll taken this month found that 73 percent of Republican female voters said Mr. Santorum understood the needs and problems of people like them, compared with 52 percent who said the same about Mr. Romney.

But wait a minute: It would be hard to argue that the Romney clan isn’t a glowing picture of traditional family values. Right? Surely it’s too simplistic to say that the Santorum edge in this department is the result of a “marriage gap” or a “family gap.”

So what is happening? Beats me. It has to be a combination of factors and pollsters and journalists should be probing away with new questions.

But this is clear: There is no one “women’s vote,” just as there is no one “Catholic vote.” Frankly, I think that pollsters are going to have to probe to see how gender interacts with issues linked to (a) worship attendance, (b) marriage/divorce and (c) family size. Wanna bet that all of this is also related (paging the Divine Mrs. M.Z. Hemingway) to those women who do not exist in the mainstream-media coverage of the Health and Human Services rules?

Something is going on out there and the Times team was right to point it out. Now it’s time for a follow-up story that digs deeper, searching for the cracks inside the mythical women’s vote. Hint: Ask the pews question.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Julia

    Brings to mind a very surprising segment I saw on FOX News earlier in the week. An expert was ranking states on how good they were for women. Criteria included such things as availability of child care, percent of women with health insurance, number of women who sat on boards and the like. But on health issues, she included availability of abortion and strictness of state laws that stood in the way of a woman who wanted an abortion. A map displayed that the worst states for women were the poor Southern states with only one or no facilities that performed abortions. No thought was given to the fact that many women are not for and would not want easy access to abortion.

    The woman anchor, I think it was Megyn Kelly, did not even question that assumption, but let the expert drone on and on about women and abortion. I don’t know if anchors have anything to do with booking their guests or if they know what is going to be said. But I would think that a news channel that supposedly leans to the right, would know that many of their women viewers would be mighty surprised that no conservative-friendly questions were asked on their behalf.

    Maybe Megyn was surprised or told not to react. She didn’t actively agree with any of it, but neither did she point out that not all women would be looking for a state with easy abortion. “Women’s issues” is as much a crock as “women’s vote”.

  • Jeff

    Women aren’t women in the eyes of the MSM unless they are pro-abortion and vote for Democrats.

    By the same token, eevil eevil Evangelicals aren’t eevil eevil Evangelicals if they are African-American and vote for Democrats and eevil eevil Catholics aren’t eevil eevil Catholics if they are Latinos and Latinas and vote for Democrats.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    That is what I would like to see on a reputable poll–a comparison between married women with children and single women on a number of issues–including what is being taught in public schools. Do married women with children want the public schools teaching-as many now do– radical sexual attitudes and practices that can be dangerous to a girl’s health and future. And that these are all OK.
    Or how do mothers feel about vouchers being available so that they can choose what schools most reflect their values and not have to go broke paying for a private school to get away from the public schools brainwashing apparatus. (Here in Ma. the public schools are particularly leftist sexual propaganda organs where parents have even been arrested for wanting to talk to school administrative bureaucrats in order to protest.)

  • sari

    Julia,
    I’d like to see the demographics on women who obtain abortions: age, marital status, ethnicity, pattern of contraceptive use, stated religion, and level of observance. Data already exist for the first three, am not sure about the fourth, but, for the purpose of this discussion, the last two are the most relevant. I think the results might surprise a lot of people.

  • sari

    Deacon John,
    There’s been plenty of press on abstinence vs. non-abstinence-based sex ed. I happen to live in an abstinence state. Today’s Politifact examined an allegation that over half the births in Texas are paid for by Medicaid. That information is easy to come by, unlike other statements, which may boil down to opinion. In fact, 55-56% of the births in Texas are paid for by Medicaid. The state has one of the highest levels of teen and repeat teen pregnancy in the nation (another verifiable fact). The highest rate is among Hispanic women, who are overwhelmingly Catholic. The highest teen pregnancy rates for non-Hispanic whites are mainly in the Deep South.

    http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/USTPtrends.pdf (see table 3.4)

    http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/state-data/state-profile.aspx?state=texas

    Can you substantiate your statement that parents have been arrested for wanting to speak with school admin? I spent a fair amount of time advocating for disabled children in the public school setting, not an easy or pleasurable task. Most states have an opt-out for those children whose parents do not want their children to take sex-ed in school. I did it for my youngest; after reading through the syllabus, I determined that the facts provided were incorrect and that the orientation was inconsistent with our belief system, which puts the burden for appropriate behavior on both sexes rather than just girls, and which does not portray sex as dirty. But I’m a parent who had already begun having the big talks during elementary and expanded on the topic as the kids matured. Many parents I know avoided the issue altogether, a fact born out by the statistics above.

    Here is the MA opt-out law, which dates from 1997:

    http://www.malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXII/Chapter71/Section32a

  • Romulus

    In an exit poll today, I was asked the pew question. Also do I own a gun, how much do I make, and is my candidate’s religion important to me.

  • Harris

    Perhaps it is also a function of class. The Romney/Santorum split basically breaks along $90,000. According to the Pew survey Evangelicals would be over-represented in HH with income <$75,000. The difference between the two sides may be less convictional than cultural.