The Catholic Vote: No Myth

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Michael O’Brien writes for msnbc.com:

The most misunderstood voting bloc in the 2012 election is the Catholic vote.

Why?

Because there isn’t one.

The religious assemblage, which has evolved over the past century from a strong Democratic constituency into a national election bellwether, is no longer discernible from most other voter groups. As the community has become less homogenous and more assimilated into mainstream culture, so has its voting habits – sending many politicians on a fool’s errand in pursuit of the “Catholic vote.”

Of course it is true that there is no “Catholic vote” if that phrase is meant to connote a group that votes with the uniformity of black Americans. It’s true as well that other facets of a person’s identity — race, marital status, frequency of churchgoing — are more predictive of his vote than his religious affiliation.

But Catholicism does seem to affect voting behavior. Catholics are “discernible from most other voter groups” in their tendency to swing between the parties — which evangelicals, Jews, blacks, single women, and most other voter groups don’t do. The evidence, some of it presented in O’Brien’s article, suggests that Catholics tend to swing a little bit more than the general electorate does. So, for example, Bush improved his share of Catholic voters between 2000 and 2004 more than he did his overall share; and the Republican share of the Catholic vote fell a bit more between 2004 and 2008 than did the Republican share of the overall vote. Swing voters are disproportionately Catholics. Politicians are wise to take note.