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The 2004 election saw some of the most passionate involvement by Catholics,
including clerics, in the political process in a number of years. But
when all was said and done, was there a "Catholic vote,"and
did Catholics make any difference in the electoral outcome? Will Catholics
who espouse the Churchs teaching, particularly on the primacy of
the right to life and on the sanctity of marriage, have any impact on
policy and lawmaking going forward?
IgnatiusInsight.com asked a number of Catholic thinkers and political
activists those questions and the consensus wasmaybe, maybe not.
Catholics voted in greater numbers for President Bush this timeat
51 percent, up from 47 percent in the 2000 election. Weekly church-attending
Catholics showed even greater support, 56% to 43%. According to newspapers,
including The Wall Street Journal, Bush also increased his margins
among Hispanics and Jews.
But that is just over half of the Catholic electorate voting for a candidate
who clearly espoused pro-life principles, in comparison to Democrat candidate
John F. Kerry, who advocated unrestricted access to abortion, including
partial birth abortion. This in spite of several bishops public
condemnation of Kerrys anti-life positions and announcements by
several that they would not give him communion.
Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput told IgnatiusInsight.com Friday that Catholics willingness
to speak out made a difference.
"I think the abortion issue, the marriage issue, and the contradictions built into Sen.
Kerry's private views vs. his public actions had a huge impact on the way Catholics voted,"
"Two out of three regular Mass-going Catholics in Florida and Ohio voted against
the Democrats. That was decisive," said the Colorado bishop, whose interview and op-ed
piece in The New York Times during the election's closing days stated the right to life is
a foundational principle. "The issues-education carried out by some Catholic groups and bishops
clearly had an effect," Chaput said.
The most pessimistic about the Catholic vote was Catholic Answers founder
and president Karl Keating. More positive were Father Richard Neuhaus,
editor of the interreligious journal First Things, Catholic activist
Bill May, Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online,
and Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life. Day,
whose religious affiliation is unknown, says Catholic activism broke open
a number of national and state races.
"Priests for Life was traveling all around the country encouraging
people to vote and to vote for pro-life candidates. I am sure they had
a huge impact on this election and getting people out," says Day.
"Its been a good year for pro-life Democrats," she said,
noting that while George W. Bush carried West Virginia, the state elected
a new pro-life Democratic governor, Joe Manchin III. Louisianas
two Congressional runoffs feature prolife Democrats, she said, and Robert
Casey Jr. was elected as state treasurer in Pennsylvania.
time the Catholic vote broke significantly for President Bush and I think
that is something of considerable importance in terms of the realignment
of Catholic voters in this country," said Father Richard Neuhaus,
editor in chief of First Things, a highly-regarded, monthly journal of
"I think more and more Catholics are being weaned from their almost
reflexive identification with the Democratic Party and we are witnessing
what I wrote about twenty years ago in a book called The Naked Public
SquareCatholics and Evangelical Protestants, in short, self-consciously
orthodox Christians in the public square, increasingly finding one another
in common cause and in this case, the most important common cause of the
culture of life," Neuhaus told IgnatiusInsight.com.
Neuhaus said even The New York Times editorial page put a "but"
after its endorsement of womens reproductive choice on Thursday
in a call for ending the social wars in the United States. "Thats
an absolute first," Neuhaus said. "And coming from the hard-core
pro-abortion center that is The New York Times. It indicates at least
in the initial shock of the election results that some serious rethinking
is going on."
NRO's Lopez says she believes Catholics were a factor, particularly in battleground states.
"The Republican party, it seems to me, deserves credit for engaging Catholics and evangelicals.
Hispanics (who fall under both), too. Their grassroots operation this time was something on
a whole new level for them, really beating Democrats at the ground game-the grassroots
factor," she said.
Whether Catholics were as decisive a factor as Evangelical Protestants
and other social conservatives is unlikely, says Karl Keating, founder
and president of the apologetics apostolate Catholic Answers, which published
a "Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics" that many attributed
with swaying and energizing pro-life Catholics to come out in greater
Although Keating is one of the most active in the efforts to build a Catholic
voting consciousness, he doesnt think there is a Catholic vote.
"I dont think its good to talk about a Catholic vote.
I dont think there is one. I think there are voters who are Catholic.
There seem to be a slightly larger proportion of Catholics who paid
some attention to the Churchs moral instruction this time around
than in previous years but there is still a very large number of Catholics,
approaching half, who seem to pay no attention to the Churchs teaching
at all." Keating thinks it is possible the margin of Catholic votes
affected some races but says there is no hard proof.
Catholics did make a difference in this election by speaking out more
vocally on Catholic teachings, Keating says. "I think weve
only just begun to flex Catholic muscles in the political arena."
Keating says that since self-identified Catholics comprise 25% of the
electorate, if just one-in-five Catholics voted consistently on Catholic
moral teachings, it would be enough to sway most elections. "Were
nowhere near close to that," he observes.
But other political activists on the ground are much more positive. Day
says Democrats for Life has been getting many more calls and emails post
election. And, Bill May, chairman of Catholics for the Common
Good, a non-partisan Catholic action group, is energized by the election
"When the final analysis is in, I believe that the Catholic vote
will be recognized as one of the most significant factors in President
Bushs reelection," May said. "It was reported from the
exit polls that Bush won the national Catholic vote 52% - 48%. Catholics
represented 27% of the total vote nationally. Bush increased his Catholic
vote margin of victory compared to the 2000 election by a stunning 10
points in Florida and 4 points in Ohio. These changes were significant
if not decisive in his winning those key states."
May noted Priests for Lifes intensive nationwide proselytizing for
prolife votes, and "the high profile, courageous public pastoral
teachings led by Archbishops Charles Chaput, Raymond Burke and John Myers,
reported in the press and widely circulated through the Internet, elucidated
the seriousness and the moral imperatives of issues relating to protection
of life and the family."
May also credited Catholic Answers concise, unequivocal voters guide,
and the sustained efforts of many Catholic lay organizations. "We
also need to acknowledge the impact of wide spread prayer and fasting,"
Part Two: Will Catholics have any influence on
upcoming policy and law decisions, including judicial nominees?
Read "Catholic Voters and the Work Ahead."
Valerie Schmalz is a writer for IgnatiusInsight.com.
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