“The Democratic Party is facing a Catholic apocalypse,” Patricia Miller warns at Salon.
Her article does a good job of marshaling statistics, but when she assesses the reasons for the apocalypse she makes a critical error.
“White Catholics are now identifying as Republicans by historic margins,” she says, and lists the evidence.
• She cites Pew data showing that 53% of white Catholics favor the GOP, versus 39% who favor Democrats.
• Catholics voted for John McCain over Barack Obama in 2008’s presidential race by 5 percentage points, she says — but chose Mitt Romney over Obama by 19 points four years later, she says.
• The U.S. House has gone from a Catholic Democrat “bastian” in 2009 — with 98 Catholic Democrats and 37 Catholic Republicans to having more Catholic Republicans than Catholic Democrats for the first time ever in 2015 — though only barely; 69 to 68.
• Between 2009 and 2014 the number of white Catholics who thought the White House was unfriendly to religious doubled from 17% to 36%, according to Pew, says Miller.
The article looks for blame for the sudden shift, and offers a few ideas. It could be the bishops who say you can’t support Democrats because of abortion. It could be that left-leaning Catholics are leaving the Church, leaving only “conservative” Catholics in the fold. It could be that bishops (every bishop, by the way) are in her words “demonizing” the HHS mandate — the federal mandate that says Catholic employers must violate their consciences or face crippling fines.
Last, she cites Pew data showing Catholics wanting more conservative spending and immigration policies to say it could be the “Tea Party-ization of white Catholics.”
She is right. It could be any of those outside influences changing the dynamic.
But the only group missing from her list of possible suspects is the most likely culprit: the Democratic Party itself.
First, on abortion, the Democratic Party has changed dramatically. Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Ted Kennedy and Jesse Jackson all started out supporting the right to life. Democrats for Life powerfully make the case that liberals should be pro-life. But the party’s harsh stand against the right to life has left it hemorrhaging people of conscience for a long time.
Princeton’s Robbie George left the party over abortion decades ago. Jo Ann Nardelli, an important Democratic organizer who had close ties to the late Gov. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania left the Party in 2012 over social issues. Bishop Thomas Tobin left in 2013, giving up all hope for reform in the party.
For years, the Clintonian formula allowed Democrats to believe they wanted abortion to be “safe, legal and rare.” Kermit Gosnell did away with the “safe” part . The 2012 Democratic platform did away with the “rare” part. Now all that is left is the “legal” part.
Just last week, Democrats killed a bill against human-trafficking because it didn’t pay federal money to abortion businesses. It is hard to accept a party that would do that, and many people simply won’t.
But Miller misses two other key factors in Catholic defections.
Catholics don’t only care about abortion. As the Financial Times wrote in 2008, Pennsylvania swung away from the Republicans over the Iraq war.
What did Catholics get for their votes? Under Obama’s watch, U.S. kill teams in Afghanistan made international headlines. The administration’s violence created chaos in Libya and our premature exit from Iraq created an opening for ISIS, and the Obama administration shamefully redefined “civilian” to justify his own drone policy.
Catholics who voted for Obama got more abortion, less religious liberty, and more violence worldwide.
By stressing “white Catholics,” the article doesn’t mention that Latino Catholics are also not a cinch for the Democratic Party.
When party-switcher New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez said, “I’ll be damned, we’re Republicans” she was describing a feeling others may be having. Latinos were not the shoe-in they were supposed to be for Democrats last November.
It’s no wonder: Latinos are more pro-life in polls than the general population.
But one thing Miller totally gets right is that the changing dynamic heralds more changes to come.
“The shift in the Catholic vote should really be a wakeup call to the Democrats,” she quotes Democratic activist Steve Krueger saying. “White Catholics are 18 percent of the electorate and Catholics vote 1 to 2 percentage points above their representation in the overall population. This is a significant voting bloc that now perceives Republicans as being more welcoming to people of faith.”