Friday, February 10, 2012

The Catholic Vote

In the context of the controversy that erupted a few days ago—the Obama Administration’s regulatory mandate requiring Catholic hospitals and other institutions to offer health insurance to their employees that feature provisions in support of birth control, including sterilization procedures—I thought I’d look up data on the Catholic vote. It is amazingly difficult to get these data, but Wikipedia’s article on “Catholic Church and politics in the United States” (link) provides a tabulation at least on the presidential votes from 1948 through 2008. I present this as a graphic:


The summary: In 12 of the last 16 presidential elections (75%), Catholic majorities voted for the winning candidates, now by large and now by narrow margins. In four elections the Catholics backed the losing candidate, in all but one case (1968 - Humphrey against Nixon) by very small margins. In each of these cases, the loser was a Democrat.

According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), Catholics represented 77.7 million people in 2011 (link), a substantial population. The Catholic, not surprisingly therefore, is viewed as a major swing vote, meaning that it does not consistently stick to one party—as these data indicate. Now, of course—as might be expected—one can find numerous sites on the web showing that Catholic women are not uniformly committed to the teachings of the Church regarding birth control, “choice,” etc. And in a story in the NYT this morning the author wonders if the flock will follow the bishops. Well, we shall see. Individual opinions are one thing, identification with the Catholic culture is something else—meaning that even secularized Catholics will feel this sort of thing as a sting.

Initially the media ignored this controversy—so much so that some pundits (the Catholics pundits, of course) noted this here and there. But now it’s out in the open and heating up. The Obama Administration is showing signs of caving. But caving after the damage is already done is miles from wisdom. The very first words of the first amendment to the Constitution refer to freedom of religion—but somehow that did not seem to have occurred to the secular evangelists who seem to lead our Department of Health and Human Services. Mr. President, you already have the pro-choice vote—and you alone have it. But it won’t keep you in office. I for one am sitting here spelling out C-L-I-N-T  E-A-S-T-W-O-O-D on a pad to see what it might feel like.

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