Catholics and Tsunami Tuesday

While the commentariat has covered the religious aspects of the GOP primary extensively, few are looking at how religion may affect the Democratic race. They should: eight of the 22 states that vote next Tuesday have populations that are more than 30% Roman Catholic, including the biggest prizes of the day: California, New York and New Jersey. In Iowa, with only 23% Catholics, Obama won the state with 38% to John Edwards’ 30% and Hillary Clintons’ 29%. But, in heavily Catholic Dubuque County, Obama’s margin was smaller, beating Clinton by 36%-31%. Hillary won in New Hampshire where Catholics are 35% of the electorate, and she won Catholics there by a whopping 44% to Obama’s 27%. Most commentators felt it was her appeal to the working-class background of NH Catholics that earned her such a large plurality among Catholics, not any specific religious affinity. The heavily Catholic states on Tsunami Tuesday fall into two regions, the Northeast and the Southwest, and two demographics, white ethnics and Latinos. Connecticut and Massachusetts are two of the most heavily Catholic states in the nation, with Catholics making up 46% and 44% of the electorate respectively. In both states, Latinos account for only about 5% of the electorate. In New York and New Jersey, Catholics are 38% and 37% of the electorate and both states have higher percentages of Latinos. In these four states, Latinos are disproportionately from Puerto Rico. Non-Latino Catholics are largely Irish, Polish, Italian and French Canadian, many of them Reagan Democrats and swing voters, socially conservative but economically progressive. Here’s a nifty map that show’s Catholic population rates nationwide In California, the biggest prize of the day, Catholics are 32% of the electorate. Of those, two-thirds are Latino. Similar ratios are found in New Mexico and Arizona; in fact, in New Mexico 30% of the electorate are Latino Catholics with another 10% non-Latino Catholics. In these three states, immigration is the issue that matters most to Latinos, and California Congresswoman Linda Sanchez cited Obama’s unwillingness to engage in immigrant-bashing as one of the principal reasons for her endorsement of his candidacy. Still, the Clinton brand name is well loved among Latinos as their 2-to-1 backing of Hillary showed in the Nevada caucuses. Immigration is also the issue on which Catholic leaders have been most vocal. Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles said that the Church would ignore any laws requiring it to ask for documentation before providing assistance. Cardinal Sean O’Malley in Boston is about as Hispanic as an Irishman can get and led a pro-immigration rally on Boston Common in 2007. And in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Bishop Edward Slattery issued only the second pastoral letter of his 14-year tenure, specifically invoking his authority as a successor of the apostles in a passionate defense of the rights of immigrants. Last week, I suggested that Obama put forward a "family friendly" approach to immigration that would resonate not only with Latinos but with other Catholics and evangelicals. He must be doing something right: he got attacked last night by Lou Dobbs for "pushing amnesty for illegal aliens" and "pandering to supporters of illegal immigration." Catholics are not single issue voters nor can they be delivered as a bloc by local political bosses as in the days of Tammany Hall. But Catholics do share certain ways of looking at the world – a concern for the Common Good, a commitment to human dignity, a familiarity with Just War theory – that any Democratic candidate would do well to consider in framing their speeches. Obama, who opposed the Iraq war from the beginning, might also usefully invoke two other famous persons who opposed the war from the start: Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Catholics may make the difference next Tuesday, from Connecticut to California and even in eastern Oklahoma. Why is the press ignoring them? Michael Sean Winters
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10 years 12 months ago
You make a strong case...but unfortunately any analysis that does take place may have to be left largely to speculation. The media group that determines state exit poll questions isn't asking Catholic-specific questions to Democrats, only to Republicans. Looking at the list of questions that GOP voters had to answer in South Carolina, they may have mistaken their exit poll interview for an examination of conscience! See http://blog.faithinpubliclife.org/2008/01/sc_exit_polls_fail_again.html for more details on this whole exit poll question brouhaha and http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21228202/ for the questions that got asked of GOP voters in SC. It's a real shame those questions aren't getting asked in a bipartisan manner.

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