Deal W. Hudson
March 11, 2015
Anyone who wishes to understand the Catholic vote needs to recognize two things from the start. First, there is no reliable “Catholic block” of voters, but there is a sizable group of white Catholic moderates who “swing” back and forth from one party to the other. They can determine the outcome of elections, as has been the case in every presidential election since 2000.
White Catholics as a whole made up only 18% of the electorate in 2012, but as a group of 18,000,000 voters, the moderates among them are significant.
Next, there is an important distinction to be made between Catholic voters who attend Mass regularly, called “active Catholics,” and Catholic who do not call “inactive” or “self-identified Catholics.” The latter’s voting pattern is indistinguishable from the national voting pattern, while active Catholics can differ between 4% to 10%, always in favor of the socially conservative candidate, usually a Republican.
On the distinction between active and inactive Catholic voters, see the November 1998 of Crisis Magazine which I edited, containing the groundbreaking study by Steve Wagner and commentary by the late Bob Novak. After the publication of this study and it’s subsequent — and successful — implementation in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, the distinction has become standard in the political analysis of Catholic voters.
Whether he intended it or not, Pope Francis has re-energized the Catholic left, the so-called “social justice” arm of the Catholic electorate. This means that those lay leaders and clergy who have been taking heat for downplaying the life issues will be able to point to the new Holy Father who said, Catholics should not be “obsessed” with abortion. It won’t matter that Pope Francis has repeatedly condemned abortion as an “unspeakable crime,” because in politico-speak you never get past the first distinction. Any further distinctions are ignored or dismissed.
Catholics rightly call immigration policy a prudential matter, but it has become de facto a non-negotiable at the USCCB, so much so that much of the clergy — and particularly Catholic Democrats — now include immigration as a “life issue.” It will not matter in the 2016 campaign that this position is wrong or that Catholics are not morally obliged to accept the bishop’s position on immigration.
The GOP, Catholic Republicans, and “conservative Catholics” will be pounded repeatedly on their supposed immigration stance, the assumption being they’re opposed to the bishops and to Pope Francis. Even Catholic presidential candidates, Sen. Rubio and former Gov. Bush, who has supported immigration reform — and paid a political price — will be found wanting.
Pope Francis has promised an encyclical on the environment. It has already been drafted by Cardinal Peter Turkson and is being readied for publication sometime later this year. If the Holy Father writes in support of the dubious global warming theory, it will hand the Democrats and the Catholic Left a very large cudgel to use against the GOP and Catholic Republicans in particular.
It will not matter what precisely the Holy Father says about the prudential issue of environmental public policy, his words will be treated as “Church teaching” in support of all the pro-abortion Catholic Democrats running for office. In truth, it will not matter if Pope Francis specifically endorses global warming. As long as he addresses “climate change,” which he assuredly will, the Catholic left will be free to claim the Holy Father has made global warming part of “Church teaching.”
With the addition of both immigration and environment arrows in their issue quiver, left-wing Catholic activists will have quite an advantage going into 2016.
The issue of religious liberty and taxpayer-funded abortion failed to make much of a dent in the 2012 presidential election. The reasons were multiple: a weak GOP candidate who ran from all the life issues; Catholic leaders such as Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Medical Association, offering Obama cover; and the tepid response of the USCCB, signaling to the White House a tacit acceptance of healthcare reform regardless of its abortion coverage. The presidential debate — not necessarily the congressional debates — will move from Obamacare, taxpayer funding of abortion, gay marriage, and religious liberty to the fate of the Pain-Capable Act see below.
The most important Congressional legislation since Roe v Wade (1978) was withdrawn from the House floor under pressure of pro-life Republican women citing concerns about its reporting requirement for rape and incest victims. That it was withdrawn on the day of the annual March for Life when it had been promised by House leadership, was especially galling for the pro-life community, which is predominate, if not entirely, Republican.
If the Pain-Capable Bill is not brought to the floor of the House and the Senate this year, where it would undoubtedly pass, a large percentage of the GOP ground troops will feel much as they did in 2012 when Romney ran away from any discussion of abortion or marriage. Pro-lifers once again will feel the Republican establishment had stabbed them in the back. It’s simply not possible for any Republican presidential candidate to win the White House without the active support of pro-life activists.
Hispanic Catholics are a growing segment of Catholic voters, now over 20%. (Hispanic voters represented 8% of all 2014 voters.) The voting record of Hispanic Catholics does not differ significantly from Hispanic voters in general, thus raising a question about the oft-repeated claim that Hispanic Catholics are “natural” social conservatives and ripe for wooing by the GOP.
Hispanic voters did respond as a group to President George W. Bush’s reelection effort, voting 44% in his favor over John Kerry. But the ugly immigration debate of 2005 put an end to that trend towards the GOP among Hispanic voters. In the congressional election of 2006, Hispanic votes for GOP candidates dropped by 50% with Romney receiving only 27% of the Hispanic vote in 2012.
Hispanic Evangelicals vote very differently from Hispanic Catholics — they consistently favor social conservatives by a large margin, a fact worth pondering.
At present, there are three Catholic GOP candidates: Rubio, Santorum, and Bush. The only Democratic Catholic candidate on the horizon is former Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, who given the growing resistance against Hillary Clinton’s candidacy may move towards center stage.
Given the addition of immigration and possibly environmentalism as Catholic issues on the 2016 campaign, O’Malley would be somewhat shielded from his abortion advocacy — his support of federal funding for abortion — as well as his dismissal of the religious liberty issues arising from his support for Obamacare. He’s relatively young and attractive, so JFK nostalgia will naturally flow in his direction.
Rick Santorum’s moment came in 2012 when he was within a few primary victories of the nomination. It’s doubtful that moment will return. Both Bush and Rubio have already gained some momentum, in spite of their intra-state rivalry. Putting aside the issue of fundraising and political infrastructure, both Bush and Rubio will have a reasonable defense against charges they have ignored the Church’s “teaching” on immigration, but their record will be ignored since they belong to the party still besmirched with, and in some cases cases still practicing, the anti-immigration rant of 2005.
However, any of these three candidates will eventually receive the wholehearted support of the pro-life ground troops. Santorum would be their first pick, but the records of both Rubio and Bush would win them a solid following, after some initial grousing.
In sum, Catholics voters who hope our nation can recover from eight years of an Obama presidency face serious challenges. The ongoing battle with the Catholic left has been made more difficult by the papal encouragement of the Cuomo-Kennedy legacy of social justice Catholicism. This cannot be overcome by the emergence in spite of stronger pro-life, pro-marriage leadership by individual bishops.
Until the culture of the USCCB undergoes a radical conversion, the message of Catholic bishops to Catholic voters in the U.S. will not favor candidates who espouse life, marriage, and the rejection of euthanasia. The settled moral issues of the Catholic faith, those that bear no qualification, will continue to be paid lip service by most Catholics.
The only solution is for lay Catholics to amplify the voice of individual bishops who are leading on these issues, create a loose grassroots network of Catholics nationwide, and outwork and out-shout the newly-energized and well-funded organizations who publish lies about the faith to support pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage candidates.
Deal W. Hudson
March 13, 2015
The 2016 election will be decisive for the future of our nation. Eight more years of leadership such as we have witnessed under Obama will stamp our culture so deeply it would take a century to undo the damage.
What damage, you ask? Eight more years will bring an end to religious liberty. Expressing the Christian view of human existence will become the occasion of bureaucratic and legal censure and punishment.
The fuse will be ignited by those who defend the Christian understanding of homosexuality, but the ensuring explosion will extend along an entire range of issues from the meaning of marriage, public school curricula, freedom of speech, control of the internet, radio and TV programming content, euthanasia and, of course, abortion.
To put it bluntly, if the Democrats win the 2016 election the United States of 2050 will be completely unrecognizable from the nation into which I was born in 1949.
The generations who fought and even died against the tyrants of ideology — the reduction of the human person to vacuous materiality — will have sacrificed for nought. The tyrants won without firing a shot. They took control of the culture by taking over the leadership of our basic institutions — education, entertainment, journalism, medicine, banking, social services, and religion.
To have any chance of impacting the next election, which as I have written will be difficult, Catholics should consider the following lessons that have been learned by those of us who have been actively involved in successful and unsuccessful political campaigns on behalf of life, marriage, religious liberty, and the protection of those near to death.
These are not merely my personal recommendations but represent a consensus of Catholics who have been active in leading political, grassroots efforts on behalf of worthy candidates.
1. Promote Mass attendance: All the exit polling since the late ’50s shows that Mass-attending Catholics, not self-identified Catholics, are most likely to vote for socially conservative candidates who oppose gay “marriage,”oppose abortion, oppose euthanasia, support the military, espouse traditional values, support fiscal responsibility, oppose the growth of federal power, and look upon the United States as an “exceptional” nation. If Mass attendance continues to drop, Catholic voters will have less and less impact at the ballot box. Their voting pattern will lose its distinctiveness.
2. Maximize the likely voters: Outreach to Catholic voters should focus on maximizing the identification, education, recruiting, and actual voting of Mass-attending Catholics. Effort spent going after historically hostile or indifferent groups is a waste of time and resources. Self-identified Catholics vote with the general population, as do Catholic groups bound by ethnicity. Yes, Catholics need evangelization, but that’s a long-term project which cannot be completed by 2016.
3. Watch your language: Most Catholic politicians and activists sound like Evangelicals. That’s not meant as a criticism of Evangelicals but a criticism of Catholics who do not bring the concepts and diction of their own faith into the public square. It’s also a criticism of Catholics who think they have to sound like an Evangelical preacher to gain a following or create applause. Catholics speaking about politics need to develop their own effective political language and their own powerful, persuasive rhetorical models.
4. Don’t ask for permission from clergy: The Church teaches that the Catholic layperson has a specific obligation to participate in politics, to be political all the way to the grassroots. Our clergy and religious have an obligation to vote but do not have the same obligation to engage politics in a partisan manner. Catholics make the mistake of asking for permission to create groups or support candidates when asking permission is not required. Our clergy teach us the moral-social principles upon which our participation is based, but they cannot — and should not — become obstacles to lay participation in politics. (The only exception is in the case of ex-communication when a politician is “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin,” such as abortion; see Canon 915.)
5. Collect lists, stop waving fists: Too many Catholics confuse public complaining with political participation. They spend their time making impassioned comments at political rallies, or in religious meetings, about the state of the culture and the need to change our political leadership. None of these impromptu speeches gain any votes because they are “preaching to the choir.” The fury, however, can be an effective starting point of genuine political outreach, which includes list-building, volunteer recruitment, volunteer and voter education, door-knocks, messaging through media, and get-out-the-vote programs.
6. Realize Catholics play dirty: One of the hardest lessons to learn and accept is that Catholics in politics will play dirty. By that I mean they will lie about the faith, misrepresent its teaching, ignore its non-negotiable moral principles, distort the views of pro-lifers and other socially conservative Catholics, and will proclaim “Church teaching” for policies that have no authoritative standing in the “sacred deposit of faith.” We have responsibility to expose those lies in a timely manner to keep them from becoming embedded in the public consciousness.
7. Politics is about passion, not reason: Catholics will have noticed that the candidate who “tells it like it is” is not necessarily the candidate who wins. That’s because political outcomes are not determined by who tells the truth but who stirs the passions — wins the admiration — of the most voters. Voters vote, first and foremost, for the candidate they “like,” who they are “favorable” toward. Politicians and their supporters who do not get this are beaten from the start. Of course, Catholics should support a politician who tells the truth about human existence, but they should also either recruit likable candidates or convince the grouchy ones they need to smile more and frown less.
8. Take sentimentality seriously: Catholics, for good reasons, are a sentimental tribe. Any acquaintance with the last 200 years of Catholicism in America will appreciate the hardships of generation after generation of Catholic immigrants. And before that, the America of the Founders was not at all hospitable to Catholics, an anti-Catholic attitude that was still evident in the 1960 presidential election. This fact makes the passionate nature of politics even greater among Catholic voters. Candidates and activists need to tread carefully and, most of all, know who they are talking to when they talk to Catholics.
9. Master Catholic symbols: Catholics, as liturgical worshippers, are naturally alert and vulnerable to the power of imagery and symbols. For example, I was told some years ago, “never wear French cuffs when you speak to Catholic voters.” Good advice, such symbols only remind voters – even if they wear French cuffs themselves – of the Protestant elites who looked down upon their Irish, Italian, or Slavic grandparents. You will not believe the pains taken by candidates to have “collars” or “habits” behind them during their stump speeches. This is why it’s rare for an Evangelical political consultant to successfully manage Catholic outreach.
10. Happy warriors win, grumps lose: Politicians are in sales. Voters are the buyers. When you are selling, you don’t browbeat the buyer, you don’t sadden the buyer, you don’t demean the buyer. No, you befriend the buyer, meet his or her eye with a smile, learn his or her name, shake hands warmly, and talk about how buying your product will make life better. In short, be the kind of person they like and trust, who they can believe in. Anger, condemnation, self-righteousness and such attitudes and tones of voice may delight a small percentage of angry, condemning, and self-righteous voters, but it won’t win an election.
*This column is the personal opinion of its author and does not represent an endorsement of any political party or candidate by the Morley Publishing Group, Inc.