To Win the ‘Catholic Vote’: Focus on Bread and Butter Issues
Every election cycle, conservative Catholics such as Deal Hudson and Robert Novak seek to perpetuate the myth of the so-called monolithic “Catholic vote” claiming that this will be the election that Catholics swing heavily to one side. In reality, Catholic voters have been the classic swing vote in American presidential politics, changing from support for the Democratic candidate to the Republican and back again. In the last nine Presidential elections, the candidate who won the Catholic vote has won the popular vote nationwide. The Catholic vote is a reliable indicator of how American voters will land on Election Day. As goes the Catholic vote, so goes the election. If presidential and congressional candidates truly care about the so-called Catholic vote, then they should remain focused on what a recent poll, commissioned by Catholics for Choice and conducted by the prominent Washington, DC polling firm Belden Russonello & Stewart, shows that Catholics care about most—the economy, the war in Iraq, health care and national security.
Catholic voters make up 25% of the American electorate and our recent poll shows that Catholic voters are currently splitting their vote for president between Barack Obama and John McCain. There is little difference in presidential preference by how often Catholics attend church. Of those polled, Catholics split 42% for Obama and 40% for McCain (with 17% undecided). Regular church-goers—those who fill the pews at Mass every week or more—split 43% for McCain and 39% for Obama.
Regardless of presidential preference, Catholics are united in their aversion to mixing religion and politics. Neither Obama nor McCain nor those in tight congressional races should concentrate on issues like abortion, which will clearly have little effect on how Catholics will vote come November. Catholic voters are mainstream voters and care about the same issues as the mainstream. Conservative Catholics may feel it necessary to try to bully Catholic voters into voting based on one issue, but it is clear that Catholics are listening carefully to what the candidates have to say—and they want to hear about the bread and butter issues that keep our country moving forward.
This article originally appeared on The Hill’s Congress Blog on August 24, 2008.