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Bottum: The Catholic Vote

12:05 PM, Feb 6, 2008 • By JOSEPH BOTTUM
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Over at the First Things website, Jonathan Last gives an initial breakdown of the Catholic vote in six of the important (and very Catholic) states that voted yesterday.

Along the way, he mentions my old Weekly Standard essay, "The Myth of the Catholic Voter," published just before the 2004 election. Jonathan is a friend, and he's kind enough not to dwell on the fact that the exit polls from yesterday don't look good for my thesis that Catholic voters are generally indistinguishable from general American voters. But I'll mention it: At first glance, the current election leaves my old work in tatters. Ugh. What a mess.

Primaries are always trickier than general elections to analyze, and not until this weekend will I have time to work through the data systematically. But here are some first numbers:

California, for the Democrats: Clinton wins Catholics by more than 40 points, while winning the state by only 10 points.
California, for the Republicans: McCain's Catholic numbers look pretty close to his general numbers.

Illinois, for the Democrats: Obama wins Catholics by about 4 points and the general vote by 32 points.
Illinois, for the Republicans: McCain's Catholic numbers look very close to his general numbers.

Missouri, for the Democrats: Obama gains a slightly higher percentage of Catholic votes than he manages in his general-vote victory of 1 percent.
Missouri, for the Republicans: Huge disparities in the Catholic vote. McCain wins weekly Mass-goers 54 to 20; Romney wins the others 44 to 33.

Massachusetts, for the Democrats: Clinton does somewhat better among Catholics than she manages in the general vote.
Massachusetts, for the Republicans: Romney's Catholic vote is close to his general victory margin.

New Jersey, for the Democrats: Clinton is +40 in the Catholic vote and only +10 in the general vote.
New Jersey, for the Republicans: McCain's Catholic vote almost exactly matches his general victory margin.

New York, for the Democrats: Clinton is +35 in the Catholic vote and +17 in the general vote.
New York, for the Republicans: McCain's Catholic vote almost exactly matches his general victory margin.

Well, well. As I said, I won't get to real number-crunching till this weekend, but here are a few starting points:

The Republican results from Missouri are strange and will need some more serious breakdown. In the other states, however, the Republican Catholic vote was close enough to the general vote for me to hold on, at least tentatively, to my thesis that Catholics don't vote as an identifiable bloc anymore.

I have no idea what to do with the Democratic vote. I'd like to say that the Hispanic vote, which has turned hard against Obama, is producing Clinton's high returns, but Missouri is, again, an outlier, with Obama's Catholic results topping his general results.

Here, however, is a suggestion: Yesterday's results may still end up showing that Catholics no longer vote as an identifiable ethnic voting bloc - with one important proviso. When pressured by other groups behaving as voting blocs - blacks, Mormons, evangelicals - the Catholic voters begin to return to their old-fashioned ethnic mode.