American Catholics make up the second largest single block of religious people in the United States, just a few percentage points behind the combined denominations of Evangelical Christians. Why don’t we have more sway in the Electoral College? Conventional wisdom would say that we do, as in the run-up to the November 2012 elections when everyone was talking about which way the Catholic vote would go, and whoever won the Catholic vote would win the White House. When push came to shove, though, neither candidate made any big moves to woo Catholic voters, and as Catholics we have only ourselves to blame. We’ve always had only ourselves to blame.
Catholicism will always be “left on the table,” so to speak. I could go into the history of the political parties and talk about where Catholicism has always fit in, how Catholic immigrants were typically of the working class poor, how they voted Democrat almost religiously, and when and where that started to change and why—but I won’t. Instead, let’s talk about recent history.
Catholics, since 1973, have been orphaned by the American political system. There is a lot about the classical Democratic platform that is attractive, demands the attention of Catholics, and should (almost) never be discounted: taking care of the poor, abolishing the death penalty, the view that war is not just another arrow in our foreign policy quiver – these are big issues. Furthermore, I would posit from little more than pure conjecture, that while the Democrats were aligned with Catholics, it helped to temper socialist undercurrents in the Democrat party. Catholics provided a moral backbone for the Democrats, while Evangelical and other Protestant groups gave moral support to the Republican party. Let’s say my conjecture is good enough for government work, and carry on.
“We’ve always had only ourselves to blame.”
When Roe v. Wade mandated abortion’s legality, suddenly Catholics should have found themselves without a party. All of them. We are a religion of love, breeding a culture of life. Neither party supported our vision of a culture of life. Republicans leaned too heavily on war, the death penalty, and now Democrats had worked abortion into their platform for good. We are told by the Vatican that abortion is the single greatest issue, and until that beast has been slain, we cannot in good conscience vote for its supporters. But we didn’t listen. Well, many of us didn’t, anyway.
Many Catholics continued to support Democratic candidates, grumbling about how the Pope couldn’t tell them who to vote for (thank you, baby-boomer-question-authority-mindset), and ignored or even embraced the party of abortion. The rest of the Catholics turned to the Republicans, because abortion was the more immediate evil. Now our once solid block was split between the true Papists and the CINOs (Catholics In Name Only). Had we all made the switch, the collapse of the Democratic party as the pro-abortion party would have been a distinct possibility. They would have had to rework their platform to win back the faithful, and we could’ve gone on our merry way. But we messed it up, with one foot in the Republican party’s door and one in the Democrats’, divided along essentially pro-life/pro-abortion lines, and all we did was make ourselves irrelevant. Now the politicians know that Catholics aren’t worth courting. If either side plays to the Catholics, they lose much of their base.
A little illustration. If a Republican made more concessions on social justice issues, he’d lose a lot of the fiscal conservatives’ trust, whereas if a Democrat caved on abortion, he’d lose the urban voters. As it stands now, Catholics have entered a political equilibrium, which for a demographic spells out irrelevancy. The last election was the widest margin of white Catholic Republican to Democrat voters (59%-40%), but when you factor in the Hispanic votes, Obama had a 50%-48% victory among all Catholics, statistically a deadeven split.
Who cares about a demographic split due to ideological difference, where no quarter is asked nor given? No one.
So now both parties are free to operate without the conscience of the Catholic Church. Republicans will continue to cater to Evangelical groups; Democrats will continue to push a pseudo-socialist regime; and Catholics will continue to separate their faith from their politics, because there is no side that they can truly call home.