At least 47million Catholicswill vote Tuesday and how they do so will decide this election.

Catholics represent 25 per cent of all registered voters. and they are vital to both parties.

In an insightful article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, John Baer made clear that the Catholicvote is vital.As he points out “Catholics after all are bellwether voters. There are lots of them.. they represent almost one fourth of all registered voters . They are important to both parties; Obama carried Catholics in ‘08 (54-45) and Bush did in ‘04 (52-47) even though John Kerry was Catholic.”

As Baer points out in the last ten presidential elections, Catholics voted for the winner and the only exception was Al Gore who won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College.

In nine surveys of Catholic workers Romney is ahead by a narrow margin while Obama is ahead in two of the polls.

The fact that Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, both Irish Catholics, may neutralize each other as an issue.

Catholics of course do not vote as a block, the last time they did so was in 1960 when John F.Kennedy became the first Catholic to win the presidency.

But several church leaders have tried to influence the debate.Bishop David RIken in Green Bay stated voting for candidates who support abortion or gay marriage “put your own soul in jeopardy”

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput stated “It’s very important for Catholicsto make distinctions when voting that they never support intrinsic evils like abortion  which is evil under all circumstances.”

A Pew research poll earlier this year showed Catholics were 56 per cent in favor of Romney’s positions but the gap has narrowed since.

Just like what has happened in the election generally the margin for Catholicvoters may be razor thin.

As he points out “Catholics, after all, are bellwether voters. There are lots of them (an estimated 47 million voted in 2008). They represent almost one-fourth of all registered voters. And they vote in higher proportion than non-Catholics.

They're important to both parties: Obama carried Catholics in '08 (54-45), and Bush did in '04 (52-47) even though John Kerry's Catholic.”

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 Catholicswon 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 firstCatholicpresident, 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. 

I ask Greg Smith, author of Politics in the Parish: The Political Influence of Catholic Priests, how much influence the Church has on Catholicvoters.

"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."

Heaven help us.