Catholics may be the most maddening electoral group in American politics, the demographic block that drives pollsters, pundits, and politicians of all stripes to distraction. Lately, Catholics—at 50 million strong and growing—have emerged as the Holy Grail of coalition politics, and they have the distinction of clustering in states rich in electoral votes, like Florida, Texas, California, New York, Ohio, and Illinois. Everyone agrees that their political allegiance is now up for grabs after decades of being a lock for the Democrats, but they are also surprisingly finicky, refusing to become solid party voters. And it’s not that they switch from party to party en masse: Instead, Catholic votes seem fragmented, leading many to surmise that Catholics are not motivated by their religious beliefs when they enter the voting booth.
With all this in mind, Crisis recently commissioned QEV Analytics, a prestigious Washington polling group, to analyze the available data for trends among Catholic voters. What it found verifies what many politically active Catholics have long suspected: Stripping away inactive Catholics who retain the label as a cultural identification, the real swing voters are active Catholics.
This group is drawn from a variety of different demographic groups—young, old, wealthy, poor, urban, rural, Western, Eastern, or in-between—yet they display certain political characteristics and possess a distinctive political history. They are the swing voters who drive elections in the Industrial Midwest, the ethnic Northeast, and populous Sunbelt states like California and Texas. They are a must-win for any coalition.
And they are the most disaffected voters. These Catholics are not solidly in either camp, though they are increasingly self-described conservatives. How to attract these voters to policies that reflect Church teaching is the focus of the upcoming Phase II of the Catholic Voter Project.
The articles that follow are based on Phase I of the Catholic Voter Project. Robert D. Novak presents the findings of the report in The Catholic Vote: Does It Swing? Steven Wagner’s The Catholic Political Identity, adapted from the QEV report, is an analysis of the Catholic voter’s response to the political issues of the day. Finally, George Marlin’s The Inner City Catholic: From The Boss to The Gipper takes the experience of ethnic Catholics in New York City as a microcosm of a national trend: the disenchantment of blue-collar Catholics with the increasingly liberal Democratic Party.