Why Catholic vote is likely to decide presidential election this year
Catholics have chosen winning candidate in nine out of ten last elections
The fact is that in nine of the last ten elections Catholics voted for the winner, the only exception being Al Gore who won the popular vote but lost the electoral college
In the last 10 presidential elections, whoever won Catholics won nine times. The sole exception was Al Gore in 2000. He won Catholics and the popular vote (by 543,000) but lost the Electoral College.
I'm not suggesting that Catholics vote as a bloc. They don't.
"They did in 1960," when JFK became the first Catholic president, says Mark Gray, of Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research on the Apostolate, "but not since then."
Just this year, two Catholics in the Republican primaries, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, lost to Mormon Mitt. Still, the vote remains highly monitored.
Gray notes that Catholics split over Church issues such as abortion and gay marriage, and social-justice issues, including funding for Medicaid and Medicare.
And, says Gray, "Catholics put partisanship before faith."
That seems to be playing out this year.
In nine surveys of Catholic voters, Romney leads slightly in seven; Obama leads slightly in two, but all are within the margin of error and reflect a national tie.
This despite the fact that Romney's views are closer to Church teachings on abortion, marriage and the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate - and despite the Church being outspoken about the election.Story continues below.
"Not very much," he says, "and it's nuanced."
Smith, a senior researcher at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, says that back in July it appeared that Romney would benefit when 56 percent of Catholics backed bishops' opposition to health care requiring religious institutions to include birth control in employer-provided insurance.
"It started out as an anti-Obama thing," says Smith, "but now that's mostly gone and it's all about the economy."
Melissa Deckman, a poli-sci professor at Washington College, in Maryland specializing in religion and politics, agrees.
"Despite high-profile issues touted by the bishops, it's the economy that Catholic voters care most about in this election," she says.
She adds that Catholics Joe Biden and Paul Ryan on the tickets don't matter since each represents half the common Catholic-vote conflict: pro-choice/pro-life; support/cut safety-net funds.
So it seems there's no solace in the search for signs of something other than a tick-tight race; the oft-determinative Catholic voter is, as Deckman puts it, "essentially like everyone else."
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