This November, like every election season, everyone is interested in the Catholic Vote, especially after a new poll came out which suggests the Democrats have lost 34 points of support among Catholics since 2008.
Understanding the Catholic Vote can be daunting at first, but some insights are straightforward enough, such as the five points presented by Deal Hudson. Here’s my list of five:
The First point to understand about the Catholic Vote is that it does not matters if someone identifies themselves as Catholic, what matter is if someone is a practicing Catholic who believes in the teachings of the Church. Poll after poll shows that Catholics who attend Mass weekly (i.e., Sunday Mass) are far more likely to vote for candidates who are pro-life (for instance) than Catholics who do not even attend Sunday Mass regularly. This is not surprising, if someone does not even attempt to honor the most elementary obligations of their faith, why should they be expected to honor the moral commitment to vote with a Catholic conscience?
Outside groups attempting to twist the Catholic Vote (Reproductive Health Reality Check is a good example) spend most of their time talking about Catholics in general, as opposed to examining the voting habits and trends of active Catholics.
Second, Catholics don’t simply vote for other Catholics. They vote for candidates who share their commitment to the values highlighted by the Church’s social teaching. A strong pro-life, pro-family Lutheran (for instance) will garner more of the active “Catholic Vote” than a Catholic candidate who is totally pro-abortion and pro-same sex marriage. Active Catholics aren’t “tribal”; they vote to promote the common good.
Third, active Catholics care about many issues, but their litmus test for supporting a candidate is normally limited to foundational issues, such as human life and dignity, the institution of marriage, freedom of religion, etc. If a candidate gets one of these foundational issues wrong, they cannot expect enthusiastic support from active Catholics.
Fourth, the Catholic Vote is in need of further education and initiatives to promote greater involvement. Catholics tend to view private institutions (such as Catholic charities and pregnancy centers) as the institutional vehicle for helping society. This is a very good thing, but at the same time, Catholics need to realize that they must also take an active role in shaping a government that promotes (not hinders) private institutions.
Fifth, the Catholic vote is still up for grabs. What we are witnessing today is the interplay between the generational transition from the Baby Boomers to the “John Paul II Generation.” The emerging group of young Catholics have little patience for the tired arguments of John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi. Rather, the next set of Catholic leaders and voters is excited about bringing their Catholic convictions into the public square.
One of the many fascinating events that will (probably) take place tomorrow, is the number of Catholic Democrats who will be swept out of office. Catholic Democrats (an organization whose efforts I must regretfully oppose), in a recent campaign mailing, provided this chart of vulnerable Democrats:
As you can see, 42 Catholic Democrats stand to lose their jobs tomorrow.
Why do you think this could be, based on the five points I have listed above?