My colleague Jody Bottum argues that despite the recent national attention, a Catholic vote does not really exist. Catholic voters follow the same pattern as those of other faiths: the more religious they are, the more likely they are to vote Republican; and the less religious they are, the more likely they are to vote Democrat. The thesis sounds good.
But I don’t think it’s true. While experts define the Catholic vote in many ways, I define it as a vote that mirrors the social teaching of the hierarchy, especially the American bishops: culturally conservative, economically populist or liberal, and moderate to liberal on foreign policy. Think of the late Bob Casey Sr., governor of Pennsylvania, as the beau ideal politician for the Catholic vote. Casey is not alone. Many Democrats in the House of Representatives have followed his lead, if not as many as in years past.
Jody, I think, has no real counter-argument to the existence of pro-life Democrats and their constituents. They show that a Catholic vote does exist. It’s just a regional phenomena rather than a national one, confined to the Mid West and parts of the East. These are Reagan Democrat bastions: they will vote for pro-life Democrats for Congress, but vote Republican at the presidential level partly because its nominees are anti-abortion. (Shameless plug alert: My book explores this theme in greater detail). As I wrote a few months ago,
Whatever their ideology (“social justice” or “social renewal”) or degree of religious observance (ex-Catholics, cafeteria Catholics, and confession-going Catholics), some Catholics vote as a bloc. You can see it in the votes of pro-life Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives and the voting patterns of regions such as southwestern Pennsylvania. What else besides Catholicism explains the pro-life votes cast by Democratic congressmen from South Boston, Rhode Island, and southwestern Chicago?
If there was no Catholic vote, these pro-life Democrats would be Republicans. But they’re not, so there is. Just ask any national political strategist.