Poll Vault

With 97 percent of the national vote counted, President Barack Obama led Governor Mitt Romney by 50 percent to 48 percent. According to National Election Pool data analyzed on Nov. 7, the morning after, by Dr. John Lapinski, the top NBC News survey analyst and my esteemed colleague at the University of Pennsylvania, the Catholic vote perfectly mirrored the national vote: 50 percent for Obama to 48 percent for Romney.

Catholic voters shadowing the mass electorate is nothing new. In 2000, for example, the electorate split 49 percent for Vice President Al Gore to 48 percent for Gov. George W. Bush, and Catholics split the same way. Even when one disaggregates all relevant data from 1992 to 2012 in various ways (by race, ethnicity, religious habits), Catholics still emerge as America’s most reliable swing voters.


In each of two Pew surveys released in the month before Election Day 2012, we learned or confirmed two important sets of things about America’s Catholic voters and their intragroup differences. The first set concerns white Catholics; the second concerns Latino Catholics.

Catholic America has its two highly partisan and ideological wings, but the median-voter character of the Catholic electorate is sustained by the white Catholics who self-identify as “moderates.” This subgroup of the white Catholic electorate accounted for about 42 percent of all Catholic voters in 2000 and about 32 percent in 2008.

Still, in 2012, 31 percent of all white Catholic voters self-identified as “moderate,” while 30 percent self-identified as “conservative,” and 11 percent self-identified as “liberal.” By a ratio of 2 to 1, these white Catholic “moderates” prefer “smaller government, fewer services” to “bigger government, more services,” but only 38 percent attend Mass weekly or more; and by roughly 2 to 1 they favor allowing same-sex marriage and oppose making abortion “illegal in most/all cases.” They lean ever more strongly to the Democrats. Obama could not have been elected in 2008, or re-elected this year, without them.

Catholic America is increasingly a Latino Catholic America. The fraction of all Catholic voters who are Latino increased from 13 percent in 2000 to 21 percent in 2008. In 2012, Latino Catholics mirrored all Latinos in partisan leanings, with about 70 percent self-identifying as “Democratic/lean Democratic.” Still, Latino Catholics are at once more churchgoing (45 percent attend Mass weekly or more), more pro-government, more pro-life and less supportive of same-sex marriage than white Catholics.

Latino Catholics are America’s demographic and democratic future. By the time Election Day 2048 rolls around, the nation’s total Latino population will constitute about one in three U.S. residents. Even if the Catholic fraction of that population dips from more than two-thirds to just half, Latino Catholics will be about as big a fraction of the total electorate as white Catholics are today. Fully one fifth of today’s Latino Catholics are ages 18 to 29. While 28 percent of white Catholics who self-identify as “conservative” are age 65 or older, only 15 percent of all Latino Catholics are senior citizens.

As Lapinski has noted, even in a general election season like the one just passed, in which religion “was not discussed much,” voters’ respective religious self-identities make a huge difference to election outcomes.

Since 1980, Republicans at the national level have banked largely on churchgoing white evangelical Christian voters, about three-fourths of whom have voted their way. They were the key to President Bush’s reelection in 2004. But if Republican leaders do not catch up to the Latinos in general, and Latino Catholics in particular, then the Grand Old Party will go the way of the Whigs.

And if the church does not start teaching, preaching and actively promoting “faithful citizenship” in a way that really resonates with Latino Catholics (which means more than just being pro-immigrant or keeping some Latino-serving urban Catholic schools going), then the American Church could go the way of Europe’s.

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Mike Evans
5 years 11 months ago
And if our parishes, bishops, schools, chanceries and social services don't catch up to Hispanic culture and begin to attract Hispanic warmth and interest, these fine immigrant and second/third generation folk will find solace elsewhere. Instead of providing a token roving Spanish speaking priest from a culture unaccustomed to participation by laity and the presence of deacons, we could intensely engage our Spanish and dual language brothers and sisters. It is not just language, since almost all of their kids don't speak it fluently and are unskilled in the written word. It is an attitude of exclusion and of separation that persists and is most difficult for us to overcome. We send the kids to a Spanish youth group where they don't really speak Spanish at all and text their friends just like all their Anglo school mates. Then the they come to a stultified, lame and accusatory liturgy where everyone is depicted as an abject loser and sinner, barely worthy of any holiness whatsoever. In fact, without the intercession of the Virgin of Guadalupe, there is no hope whatever. This is not the gospel Paul preached or that Jesus brought to gentiles and foreign born Jews. And it certainly is not the same way we treated Irish, Italian, Polish, German or even English immigrants in the past, where after one generation they were virtually completely assimilated into the wider church culture.
5 years 10 months ago
This is a certainly a time to reflect on the gospel in the public square.  Not only does the message need to resonate with Latinos but dare I say with every distinquishable group. In all the pre-election conversations I had with friends and acquaintances the one thing that I kept picking up on was the "emotional disconnect." Over and over again I would hear from all sides of the political and ideological perspective that the other party, candidate and yes even  bishops were "out of touch." When Jesus preached a sometimes tough message he also ministered with acts of consolation and even miraculous healing.  Do you suppose we will ever reach that point where our Catholic preaching and teaching will both touch the mind with truth and the heart with compassion and understanding?  Not to is just to continue the disconnection so many experience.
C Walter Mattingly
5 years 10 months ago
Ironically enough, the major factor of separation between almost any two groups of different culture, the language barrier, was once bridged by a language common to all who participated in the central liturgy of the faith, the latin mass. While it was more common to the speakers of the Romance languages, and of course many if not most did not understand much of what was uttered without the accompanying translation, a German, Mexican, and American could attend a mass in any of the countries and essentially see the familiar. 

The cultural divide in our liturgy, with the language barrier its largest element, is nowhere more obvious than in the separate English masses and Spanish masses in my parish. Barely a half century ago, even though we might have misunderstood "et cum spiritu tuo" as my sister did as "April spirit due to all," we would have all attended the same masses and other liturgies together. And that's no small thing.


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