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Catholics May Decide the Election
Published on October 21, 2004 By Robert Guinness In Politics
In recent decades, Catholics, making up roughly one-quarter of the U.S. electorate, have become an important swing voter group. While they have traditionally voted with the Democratic party, evidence shows that a massive swing to support Republicans in the 1980's decided the 1980 and 1984 elections for Reagan, and the 1988 for Bush. In 2000, however, Catholics split nearly evenly between Bush and Gore. Even a small shift from this balance could decide the 2004 election, especially since the portion of voters that are Catholic is even higher in many important swing states, including Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Michigan, and Iowa. In particular, Catholics are approaching one-third of all voters in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Earlier in the 2004 campaign, Bush led Kerry slightly among Catholic voters in voter sampling polls. This most likely was based on the controversial issues of abortion and stem cell research, where Bush's positions more closely align with Catholic teaching. Adding to this, several bishops announced that they would deny Kerry communion based on his voting record on abortion. A lay canon lawyer even announced that he had received a "Vatican response" that Kerry was "automatically excommunicated" for his stance on abortion.

Ironically, these types of comments have angered many Catholics, and in addition many theologians have questioned their doctrinal basis. Indeed, the Vatican quickly replied officially that Kerry's excommunication was a bogus claim, and that Kerry is indeed a member of the Catholic Church. In addition, many bishops and cardinals have also said they would not deny communion to Kerry or any other "pro-choice" individual.

One prominent bishop, Raymond Burke of St. Louis (one who said he would deny communion to Kerry), even later clarified that it would not be sinful to vote for Kerry, if an individual had reasons to vote for him that overarched the issue of abortion. Essentially, the Church has said that, while it clearly does not support abortion, there are still circumstances where it is permissible to support a pro-choice candidate. It is only heresy if one actually receives or performs an abortion, and it is only a sin if one supports a canidate explicitly FOR their position on abortion.

Recently, groups of Catholics have been organizing to raise awareness that the pro-life Catholic teaching is larger than the issue of abortion, and, in fact, on many pro-life issues, the Democratic Party is closer to Catholic teaching than the Republican party. Last week, an op-ed article in the New York Times by prominent Catholic, Mark Roche (dean at University of Notre Dame), gave this argument widespread attention. In addition, “Catholics for Kerry” groups recently held coordinated rallies, attracting thousands of supporters, in ten cities around the country. Several of these cities are in the important swing states of Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

These efforts appear to be taking effect. The most recent poll, conducted by Reuters/Zogby, shows that Kerry now holds a slight lead over Bush among Catholics. Daily tracking is needed to fully track this trend, but judging from the candidates’ overt focus on this voter block, the growing media attention to the Catholic factor, and the fervent grassroots activities of Catholic groups, it is clear many are noticing that the Catholic vote may decide the 2004 election. And things are looking up for the Catholic candidate.

Related references:
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5868534/
http://www.scienceblog.com/community/older/archives/K/5/pub5385.html
http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1141/is_n15_v33/ai_19136139

Comments (Page 1)
on Oct 21, 2004
Interesting article.

I just have to point out though that of course a group which includes 1/3 of all potential votes may decide the election. It's a fairly silly statement really. Any group bigger than the split between the total votes for either candidate may decide the election.

Paul.
on Oct 21, 2004
Robert, great article...I think the Chuch is experiencing a backlash against it's overt attempts to swing the election one way or the other and a backlash against rigid applications of doctrine that most Catholics just simply do not accept. Most Catholics see right through politcal pandering and they don't take too kindly to it. I'm glad the Church is backing away from its former positions.
on Oct 21, 2004
I just have to point out though that of course a group which includes 1/3 of all potential votes may decide the election. It's a fairly silly statement really. Any group bigger than the split between the total votes for either candidate may decide the election.


Point taken, but you have to look a little deeper before declaring that a block of voters is a so-called "swing group". First, how well can that particular block be persuaded/influenced by a particular set of issues and positions (i.e. how coherent of a group is it actually., e.g. Men are a large voting block, but obviously not a very coherent one.) Secondly, what percentage of that block can effectively be swayed (e.g. Blacks are a large voting block, but the Republicans can only hope to pull in a small percentage of them). Thirdly, how likely is that group to vote (e.g. young people are a large group, easily swayed...but unfortunately they don't vote in large percentages).

I would argue that what makes Catholics so significant is that at roughly 1/5 to 1/4 of the electorate (up to 1/3 in a few swing states) is that they satisfy all three categories by large margins: (1) There is a fairly narrow set of issues that can catch the attention of a large percentage of them. (2) Historically, they can sway quite significantly, and (3) they vote at roughly equal or greater than the national average.
on Oct 21, 2004
Great article, but I think this is the cart before the horse.

Instead of Catholics (or any other 'swing' group) can be said to be determining the election, perhaps it is just the candidates are getting the support and they just happen to be Catholic. I dont see this group, or any other that is named a 'swing' group having a central body that marches them lockstep for one candidate or another (like labor unions and blacks).

So before rushing to cater to this 'swing' group, the candidates would be better served checking out what is swaying these voters. The problem is, they will find a myriad of answers, because there is no one thing that is causing these voters to vote right or left.

Polling Catholics would be like Polling French. They are as diverse as any group, and not as narrowcast as many like Blacks and Labor Unions.

One last thought. While '1/4 or 1/3' of the population may be called Catholic, that is a true misnomer. If you are born a Catholic, you will always be a Catholic, regardless of whether you go to church or even believe in the tenets of the church. Roughly 50% of the acclaimed Catholics are that by birth only, and not by profession or actions.
on Oct 21, 2004
I agree with your explanation of a swing group.

Considering that gay marriage has come on the radar as an issue, do you think that Catholics will vote for the party that traditonally supports gay rights and the candidate that voted against DOMA?
on Oct 21, 2004
I can't believe this is even an article. It is not surprising that Kerry lead the Catholic vote. It is unsual for Bush to be that competitive among Catholics. Catholics have always voted for Democrat presidential candiates. Kennedy, Clinton, Gore.... by huge marign. This is like an article telling me that Kerry has black voters...
on Oct 21, 2004
Considering that gay marriage has come on the radar as an issue, do you think that Catholics will vote for the party that traditonally supports gay rights and the candidate that voted against DOMA?

I believe in moderate states, especially in the midwest, DOMA and other related votes will have fairly strong bi-partisan support. Some liberal Catholics will oppose constitutional amendments defining marriage because they oppose "discrimination" against anyone. But in my state, Missouri, our marriage ammendment passed by a margin of 2-1. And it is interesting to note that in that election, by far more Democrats voted than Republicans, because it was a primary and our democratic gubernatorial primary was hotly contested. But short answer is that I don't believe candidates will not vote for Kerry based on DOMA. Catholics are generally supportive of "gay rights", but not the right to marry, since marriage is by definition between a man and a woman. Also, Kerry did not oppose the federal DOMA because he supports gay marriage. He voted against it because he believes it's a state issue.

Catholics have always voted for Democrat presidential candiates. Kennedy, Clinton, Gore.... by huge marign.

You are mistaken. Catholics traditionally, from FDR to Kennedy, voted for Democrats, but for Nixon, Reagan (twice), and Bush-41, they voted for Republicans. In 2000, the Catholic vote was roughly split between Gore and Bush.
on Oct 21, 2004
Instead of Catholics (or any other 'swing' group) can be said to be determining the election, perhaps it is just the candidates are getting the support and they just happen to be Catholic. I dont see this group, or any other that is named a 'swing' group having a central body that marches them lockstep for one candidate or another (like labor unions and blacks).

So before rushing to cater to this 'swing' group, the candidates would be better served checking out what is swaying these voters. The problem is, they will find a myriad of answers, because there is no one thing that is causing these voters to vote right or left.

Polling Catholics would be like Polling French. They are as diverse as any group, and not as narrowcast as many like Blacks and Labor Unions.


If a group votes the same way, it is likely because they have some values or needs in common. Yes, Catholics have been split at times, but nearly all Catholics share some certain core values, such as defense of life, social justice, and a desire for peace. These values point towards certain key issues of the 2004 election, around which Catholics could coalesce.

If Catholics were split in 2000, and there is even a 10% in either direction, it would decide the election. Such a shift is not unprecedented. As I mentioned in the article, it happened in 1980 to help the Republicans elect Reagan, then shifted back towards the Democrats in 1992 such that Clinton was able to beat Bush-41.
on Oct 21, 2004
You are mistaken. Catholics traditionally, from FDR to Kennedy, voted for Democrats, but for Nixon, Reagan (twice), and Bush-41, they voted for Republicans. In 2000, the Catholic vote was roughly split between Gore and Bush.


You are correct. In term of the 2000 result, I was refering not the election result between Bush and Gore. Rather I was refering to a pre-election poll by Gallup at about the same period as now (3 weeks) before election. I believe in that poll Gore has a huge lead among Catholic voters.
on Oct 21, 2004
In term of the 2000 result, I was refering not the election result between Bush and Gore. Rather I was refering to a pre-election poll by Gallup at about the same period as now (3 weeks) before election. I believe in that poll Gore has a huge lead among Catholic voters.


Ok. Thank you for the clarification. Do you have a reference for the poll you mentioned? Thanks.
on Oct 21, 2004
Ok. Thank you for the clarification. Do you have a reference for the poll you mentioned? Thanks.


I got the number either from the Gallup poll video or a Gallup poll article. Unfortunely, Gallup poll is being a bit cheap these days. You can look at the new poll for free, but any poll older than a day, you will need be a member. To be short, I didn't pay and thus not a member. If my memory serves me right, I think Gore has a 10-15% at that point among Catholic, maybe you will still call that a spillted. As far as the 2000 election, didn't Gore has a 7 points lead over Bush in the exit poll? That is not too bad.
on Oct 23, 2004
Rob, There is one part of your article I must take issue with.

"One prominent bishop, Raymond Burke of St. Louis (one who said he would deny communion to Kerry), even later clarified that it would not be sinful to vote for Kerry, if an individual had reasons to vote for him that overarched the issue of abortion. Essentially, the Church has said that, while it clearly does not support abortion, it is not sinful to support the right to choose."

Archbishop Burke in his letter clearly states that there is no issue that overarches abortion or safeguarding the right to life. The Archbishop states, "But there is no element of the common good, no morally good practice, that a candidate may promote and to which a voter may be dedicated, which could justify voting for a candidate who also endorses and supports the deliberate killing of the innocent, abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, euthanasia, human cloning or the recognition of a same-sex relationship as legal marriage. These elements are so fundamental to the common good that they cannot be subordinated to any other cause, no matter how good," ("On Our Civic Responsibility for the Common Good," section 39).

And actually the Church does state that it is sinful to support the right to choose, because that implies that a person is not morally opposed to the occurence of abortions in a country. In Cardinal Ratzinger's letter on "Worthiness to receive Holy Communion. General Principles," he states that,
"A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons."

So the question then becomes what is proportionate reasoning. I do not wish to propose an answer to that question here, but I do wish to point out two notes of clarity on that statement, both of which are implied earlier in the document. First, Ratzinger states,
"This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it." Which means voting for a candidate BECAUSE they support the right to choose is cooperating in moral evil. Now voting for a candidate, as Ratzinger states, who is pro-choice because of other moral goods that candidate promises and not because of him/her being pro-choice is not cooperating in moral evil.

Secondly, Ratzinger states, "Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia." Which means the issue of abortion and euthanasia is at the highest level of priority for morality, which was demonstrated in Archbishop Burke's letter. In fact it could be interpreted that the only way to outweigh abortion or safeguarding the right to life is if both candidates do not safeguard the right to life and as a result one must choose the candidate who cooperates in moral evil the least. So the question becomes, what does proportionate reasoning really mean? Which candidate really cooperates in moral evil the least and shows evidence for supporting legislation that protects life more often than the other candidate.

Troy
on Oct 24, 2004
Troy,

Thank you for your post. I plan to address the issue of abortion fully in an upcoming post, but let me just say this here for now:

I do not support Senator Kerry's position on abortion. In fact, out of the small number of positions Kerry takes that I disagree with, I feel most strongly in opposition to his position on the right to abortion. It complete ignores the rights of the child, which is exactly the issue at hand.

Essentially, I agree with both what Archbishop Burke and Cardinal Ratzinger say, and I believe my justification for voting for a pro-choice candidate comes from both (1) proportionate reasons, and (2) a differing view on what the long-term strategy to eliminating abortion should be. Again, I will get to this in depth in an upcoming essay. Part of the reason I haven't been able to address it fully is because neither proportionate reason or eliminating abortion are easy issues. How do you weigh the intentional killing of one group of innocents against the intentional acts that result in the killing of another set of innocents? It is not an easy question to answer. Also, how can you say that criminalizing abortion will lead to the the reduction in the number of abortions, when we have many examples of countries where abortion is legal yet takes place at alarming rates? Jesus himself could have chosen to work within Jewish law in the hope of changing it to reflect more closely the way God wants us to live, but He instead chose a completely different path. I would argue that His path was far more effective than any change to any written law, civil or religious.

I do stand corrected, however, that the Church says, "abortion can never be justified by invoking respect for the freedom of others..." I have read otherwise from other students of theology (whom you know personally), but I will revise my essay as soon as possible to reflect what Cardinal Ratzinger writes. I do not claim to be an expert on theology. I merely try to portray what others have said about Catholic theology, and then explain how my positions fit within that theology. I will say that I am not afraid to disagree with the Church, but I certainly don't want to misrepresent its teachings.

Thanks again, Troy!
on Oct 24, 2004
Catholics kick butt! I don't like the idea of voting based off of one issue, though.
on Oct 24, 2004
Kerry doesn't lead among Catholics. Kerry leads among those who fantasize that they are Catholic.

" I will say that I am not afraid to disagree with the Church..."

Case in point. This person is about as Catholic as Hans Kung.
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