The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown has some new data that shows that Catholics identify as Republicans at a lower rate than at any point since 2000, when Al Gore won the Catholic vote.
The Republicans labored mightily to disqualify John Kerry's Catholicism for conservative Catholics in 2004,and on the surface, it appears as if they succeeded: according to the 2004 exit polls, President Bush won a majority and increased his margin over 2000 by five points -- Gore won them by three points in 2000. (Note: a Pew study which I can't find online found that regular massgoers actually swung away (by three points) from President Bush in 2004, which suggests that the communion and abortion controversies weren't that relevant.)
The CARA study finds that 57% of US Catholic adults identity as Democrats or Democratic leaners, while 40% identify as Republicans or Republican leaners. (69% of Hispanic Catholics are Democratically inclined.) The shift from 2004 holds across all attitudinal levels, including frequency of mass attendance and the degree to which Catholics rely on doctrine i.e., the catholicity of Catholics, age, and gender.
Of course, the question of Catholic presidential votes has always been more of a "where" than a "who for" -- Obama can win Catholics in concentrated urban areas and in the Northeast cleanly; in states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, in parts of Western Iowa, in Missouri, he has work to do. As George Marlin noted in his 2004 tome called "The American Catholic Voter," the Catholic flight out of the New Deal Coalition (and, geographically, out of the inner cities) was driven by cultural factors and racial tension. Obama is black and a cultural liberal;
There are plenty of Catholics in the Southwest, too -- they are among John McCain's target audiences. It's true that Catholics generally favored Hillary Clinton in the Democratic race, but there are no studies I am aware of which shed any light on the degree to which Catholic voters voted as Catholics first in the primaries.
In 2004, there was a lot of talk among conservatives about the great Catholic-Evangelical coming together. What happens in 2008?
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