Catholic vote

Huckabee Fails to Attract Catholic Voters

Deal W. Hudson
January 11, 2008

The Catholic voter problem that surfaced in Iowa has followed Gov. Mike Huckabee to New Hampshire. In Iowa, Huckabee received strong support in predominately Evangelical counties, but his support fell sharply in counties with large numbers of Catholic voters.

There was no improvement in New Hampshire for the former governor of Arkansas. Sen. John McCain attracted the most Catholic support, 38 percent, while Huckabee received only 8 percent. In other words, McCain garnered almost five Catholic votes for everyone going to Huckabee.

Huckabee did almost twice as well with Protestants as he did with Catholics – but not as well as McCain, who received the most Protestant votes (40 percent). McCain nearly attracted the same number of self-identified born-again voters as Huckabee, 30 percent to 33 percent.

It’s clear that Catholics, thus far, have not been charmed by Mike Huckabee. Some might argue that New Hampshire is too liberal for the former Baptist minister, but New Hampshire Catholics certainly are not liberal – they voted for Bush in 2004 over Kerry, 52 to 47 percent.

So why is Huckabee failing to connect with Catholic voters?

Last week I reported in a “Window” that Huckabee’s campaign was being dogged with charges of anti-Catholicism stemming from, among other things, his recent appearance at John Hagee’s church in San Antonio.

Hagee, whom the Catholic League called a “Veteran Bigot,” has published numerous mischaracterizations of the Catholic Church over the years, such as the following:

In all of [Hitler’s] years of absolute brutality, he was never denounced or even scolded by Pope Pius XII or any Catholic leader in the world.

Huckabee tried to distance himself from Hagee’s beliefs but did not cancel his appearance at Hagee’s Cornerstone Church. “I would certainly never characterize the Catholic Church as being pro-Nazi, never,” protested the former governor.

Huckabee, who believes he has the right message for Catholics, must nevertheless be frustrated with his low level of support among them. In an interview with Reuters just before the New Hampshire primary, Huckabee talked about the appeal he thought his campaign should have for Catholics:

I certainly believe that Catholics are right about talking about poverty, disease, and hunger. Things I talk about… I think a lot of Evangelicals have not talked enough about it quite frankly.

Huckabee jokingly added that there were so many Catholics on his staff that “we need some Baptists in this bunch here.”

If Huckabee can successfully address the issues of anti-Catholicism, he might find that his disconnect with Catholic voters is an issue of style rather than substance.

Steve Wagner, president of QEV Analytics, concluded his study of the Catholic Voter with a comparison of religiously active Catholic and Evangelical voters. The two voter groups had arrived at very similar stances on political issues. But, Wagner stresses, for a politician to reach these different groups, “effective political rhetoric will have different tones, different language, different emphases for Catholic and non-Catholic audiences.”

For example, Evangelicals tend to respond positively to strongly worded moral messages, while Catholics usually prefer moderated messages without any sense of moral condemnation.

The next stop of the campaign is the “Catholic” state of Michigan for its January 15 primary. Twenty-seven percent of Michigan voters are Catholic, while 18 percent are white Evangelical. The fact that 40 percent of Michigan’s voters attend worship services at least once a week means that the religious conservative vote is going to have a big impact on next week’s primary.

McCain, and even Romney have shown they can attract Catholics, mainline Protestants, and Evangelicals. Huckabee has yet to prove he has broad appeal.

Whatever the source of his disconnect with groups outside of the Evangelical community, Huckabee will have to fix the problem in order to win the nomination. The latest polling in Michigan shows Romney enjoying a slight lead in his home state (20.3 percent), with Huckabee (19.3 percent) and McCain (16.3 percent) close behind.

The only way Huckabee can prevail in Michigan is to garner a significant portion of Catholic voters, which he has been thus far unable to do. It will be interesting to see what kinds of adjustments he makes over the next few days before primary day in Michigan.

Is the Catholic Vote Giving John McCain the GOP Lead?

Deal W. Hudson
January 31, 2008

When Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) dropped out of the presidential race and endorsed “maverick” Senator John McCain (R-AZ), many scratched their heads. But his endorsement, which bucked the conservative establishment trend toward Mitt Romney, has provided the winning edge for McCain.

Brownback surprised people with his support of McCain after pulling out of the race, the support he explained in his interview with me last week. Brownback’s view is that McCain is the most electable pro-life Republican in a national race. His decision is being corroborated by the primary results, especially McCain’s ability to attract Catholic voters.

All three of McCain’s primary wins – New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida – have been fueled by a high turnout of Catholic voters who have given most of their votes to the Arizona senator. Brownback, as chair of Catholics for McCain, announced on December 27 that he is creating a coalition that is pro-life, fiscally conservative, tough on national security, and compassionate on immigration.

In South Carolina, for example, McCain won the overall Catholic vote 45 percent to Romney’s 24 percent and Huckabee’s 11 percent, and Mass-attending Catholic voters 35 percent to Romney’s 28 percent and Huckabee’s 14 percent. Catholics made up 13 percent (57,579) of the overall tally of 442,918 total votes cast in the strongly Evangelical state. McCain had 19,577 more Catholic votes than Huckabee; his winning margin statewide with all voters was 14,843.

As in South Carolina, the Catholic vote provided the margin of victory in Florida for Senator McCain. Of McCain’s 95,273-vote victory over Romney, nearly 67 percent of that margin (63,549 votes) was Catholic. But the fact that McCain narrowly lost the white Catholic vote (which was 21 percent of all Florida voters) by a margin of 33 percent to Romney’s 34 percent shows the power of the Hispanic Catholic voter. Exit polling did not supply exact information, but McCain would have had to win the Hispanic Catholic vote by roughly a margin of 2 to 1 to win the statewide Catholic vote by 11 points.

McCain’s popularity among Hispanic Catholic voters is no doubt connected to his stance on immigration, which is so unpopular among the conservative grassroots (including many white Evangelicals). While candidates Romney and Huckabee wooed Evangelical voters by continually moving to the right on the immigration question, McCain defended his immigration views by calling simultaneously for border security and arguing that immigrants should be treated with the dignity they deserve as “God’s children,” which he explained in his recent interview with me.

Brownback, the leading pro-life Catholic in the Senate, was one of the original Republican co-sponsors of the immigration legislation introduced by John McCain and Ted Kennedy (D-MA). His position on immigration made it hard for Brownback to get traction among Iowa Evangelicals in the build-up to the Ames Straw Poll last summer.

But what was a liability among the Evangelicals in Iowa became a huge plus for McCain among Hispanic Catholics in Florida. In fact, it may be the case that even non-Hispanic Catholic voters are disposed differently toward the immigration issue than Evangelicals. There is research that suggests that a higher degree of hostility toward immigrants can be found among Evangelicals than non-Hispanic Catholics.

A Pew Research Poll released in April 2006 revealed that white Evangelicals are more likely than white non-Hispanic Catholics to perceive immigrants as a “threat” to American customs and values, 63 percent to 48 percent. And among both groups, the hostility toward immigrants lessened with higher degrees of church activism.

Brownback’s outreach to Catholics on behalf of McCain may well be connecting with pro-life, socially conservative Catholics who – unlike many Evangelicals – do not bear an animus toward McCain for his stance on immigration.

Whether this coalition can withstand the attacks of Republicans and movement conservatives with old grudges against McCain will be revealed next week. On February 5, 21 states will hold their GOP primaries on what is known as Super Tuesday. Many of those states have a high percentage of Catholic voters: Arizona, Connecticut, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, West Virginia, and North Dakota. Some of those states are both heavily Catholic and Hispanic: Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and California.

Nine hundred seventy-five GOP delegates, or 41 percent of the delegate total, will belong to the winning candidates. With the delegates of so many of the larger states, all Catholic-heavy, being awarded on a winner-take-all strategy, McCain will very likely emerge from Super Tuesday as the apparent GOP presidential nominee.

Senator Brownback’s decision to endorse McCain may well have turned out to be the pivotal event in the revival of the McCain candidacy and his eventual nomination. Brownback’s role in the McCain campaign may also help create a distinctive Catholic arm of the Religious Right.

San Francisco Pro-Lifers Start a Film Festival

Deal W. Hudson
March 5, 2008

A new and unusual film festival focused on pro-life issues will be held in San Francisco this coming Friday, March 7. The Cinema Vita Film Festival is “dedicated to encouraging emerging filmmakers, showcasing movies about contemporary issues concerning life, and exploring life’s deep significance.”

Sponsored by the Archdiocese of San Francisco, the Diocese of Oakland, and St. Ignatius Press, Cinema Vita was conceived by four pro-life laywomen. With the help of San Francisco’s pro-life community, the festival became a reality.

Submissions of these short films – most in the five-minute range – were made in three categories: high school, college, and open, the highest number of entries being in the high school category. Festival judges are actress Jennifer O’Neill; Rev. Michael Morris, O.P., film and art historian at Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology; Doug Sherman, founder and chairman of Immaculate Heart Radio; Vicki Evans, Respect Life Program Coordinator at the Archdiocese of San Francisco; and me.

Bill and Marjorie Campbell are one of the two couples helping to underwrite the fledgling festival. “We see this as an ongoing project that will grow like the San Francisco Walk for Life,” Marjorie told me. “We were inspired to support it because of the success of films like Bella and Juno. The arts, especially film, are much more effective at conveying a pro-life message than strident political debates.”

One of the biggest stories concerning religion in the past several years is the explosion of Christian interest in producing films, ignited by the success of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. The grassroots marketing campaign for The Passion left in its wake a spate of companies and ad hoc networks attempting to tap into the same audience.

This interest in film as a medium of evangelization clearly appeals to Catholic investors like the Campbells. “You have a much better chance to change people’s minds when they go to movies, because the movies are not an attack on you. Films invite people to reflect; political debate often creates division and separate camps.”

Connie D’Aura was among the group of pro-lifers who first discussed having a pro-life film festival. “I was in a meeting talking about how we could bring Bella to San Francisco when somebody said we should have our own film festival.” No one said anything at the time, but Connie brought it up at another meeting several months later, and a decision was made on the spot to launch Cinema Vita.

Using networks in San Francisco and Oakland, especially through the Walk for Life West Coast, Connie and her friends got the word out. Films were to be approximately five minutes in length and address the “significance of life.” Wording the criterion this way ensured that not all the films would be about abortion. “We think this will be a big success – the word got out, especially on the Internet, and we got submissions from Texas, Arizona, and North Carolina. But we expect it to be even bigger and better next year.”

The festival itself, in addition to the awards, will feature a showing of After the Truth, a fictional recreation of a trial in contemporary Germany of the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele, the “angel of death” who performed human experiments on the prisoners at Auschwitz. In the movie, Mengele kidnaps an attorney in order to return to Germany to tell his story, without remorse. In reality, Mengele escaped to South America, living first in Argentina, then Brazil, eluding capture before dying of a stroke in 1979. (In 1978, the film The Boys from Brazil was released, based upon the novel by Ira Levin, starring Gregory Peck as Mengele.)

The film about Mengele was suggested by festival organizer and judge Vicki Evans, who considers the Mengele story especially relevant for current arguments over bioethics, such as experimentation on embryonic stem cells. She thinks having a film festival is a no-brainer:

Everyone loves to go to the movies and lose themselves in the silver screen. Why not present films that will give an audience positive themes to reflect upon? And why not encourage emerging filmmakers to use their art in support of an ethical society?

The winners of the Cinema Vita contest were contacted today, and several of them are making the journey to San Francisco to receive their awards in person. Marjorie Campbell hopes that some of these participants will be encouraged to learn the trade of making films. “We need to encourage Catholic artists; they are under-represented in the film industry, and much of what is being made for a Catholic audience suffers from a lack of quality.”

Having seen the films myself, I can report that several of them were well-made and incredibly powerful. We will be showing some of these films on over the next few weeks, in the hope of stimulating interest for next year’s festival. (I was surprised that there weren’t more students from Catholic colleges represented, given the time that many of them spend on YouTube!)

One film in particular, whose title I cannot mention, packed a particular punch, and I will be interested to see the reaction when it is posted. It’s an impressive example of how Catholic artists can express their faith through their art.

The films submitted to Cinema Vita are only the first wave from a generation of young Catholic filmmakers who may well surpass the past generation of polemicists in combating the culture of death.

Catholic Left Beats McCain with Hagee Stick

Deal W. Hudson
March 13, 2008

The moment Bill Donohue demanded that Senator John McCain repudiate the anti-Catholicism of Rev. John Hagee, the Democrats began rubbing their hands in anticipation. Between February 28 and March 10, Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, issued eleven press releases.

By the time Donohue announced “this case is closed” the McCain-Hagee story had been referenced every day on cable news and in the print media.

But what satisfied Bill Donohue was not enough for a group called “Catholics United,” a middle-to-left organization “dedicated to promoting the message of justice and the common good found at the heart of the Catholic Social Tradition.”

For the past year, Catholics United has pushed a number of issues it considers of importance to Catholics, most of them at the expense of Republicans: global warming, torture, children’s health care, ending the Iraq War, and now the endorsement of McCain by Texas pastor John Hagee.

A March 7 press release from Catholics United applauded McCain’s repudiation of Hagee’s anti-Catholicism but called upon him to “reject” Hagee’s endorsement outright.

Chris Korzen, executive director of Catholics United, stated, “By publicly accepting and celebrating this endorsement, McCain is sending a signal that he tolerates these extremist positions. Hagee has offended many groups besides Catholics. The best way for him to move forward is by simply rejecting his endorsement.”

Here’s what McCain said:

I repudiate any comments that are made, including Pastor Hagee’s, if they are anti-Catholic or offensive to Catholics.

The “Hagee moment” in McCain’s campaign even gave pro-abortion Catholic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) the opportunity of criticizing the pro-life senator from Arizona. The fact that Pelosi’s statement failed to provoke widespread laughter demonstrates the power of the anti-Catholic label to turn off Catholics.

Here’s the new reality among American Catholics: There is nothing that will lose a candidate the Catholic vote more quickly than the taint of anti-Catholicism. Among laymen, Bill Donohue should be credited more than any other single figure for telling Catholics to demand respect for their faith. Donohue’s Catholic League makes media moguls think twice about bashing the Catholic Church – and he’s made the reality of anti-Catholicism a factor in presidential politics.

In the background of Donohue’s achievements are the myriad changes in the U.S. Catholic Church since the beginning (1978) of John Paul II’s papacy. These changes are part of the story I tell in my recently published book, Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States (Simon & Schuster).

John Paul II gave America’s Catholics pride in their Church, and a sense of empowerment they had not felt in many years. The changes stemming from the Second Vatican Council – some mandated by the Council, some not – had left Catholics unsure about their legacy and the traditions they, their parents, and grandparents had followed for many generations.

John Paul II helped to make sense out of those changes and reestablished spiritual and moral priorities that seemed in line with those previous generations thought left behind in the old “pre-Vatican II” world.

Among those priorities was the support he gave to the Catholic pro-life movement which had been started by the U.S. Catholic Conference in the early 70s but was superseded by the bishops’ embrace of the “seamless garment” approach to social teaching.

The life issues under the leadership of John Paul II, and now Benedict XVI, have become the focal political issues – the non-negotiables – by which Catholics can evaluate their political leaders and their platforms. The consequences of which were witnessed clearly in the controversies surrounding the candidacy of Sen. John Kerry.

If you look for a pro-life message on the website of Catholics United you will find it connected to support of children’s health care (S-CHIP) legislation. Whatever your position on that legislation, it is hardly the totality of the Church’s understanding of what it means to be pro-life.

Catholics United did not get much traction in making S-CHIP into a “pro-life” issue. But anti-Catholicism is an altogether more potent charge to make against the Republican candidate, and one that the GOP should take very seriously.

So should McCain be forced to completely reject Hagee’s endorsement? No, it is enough that he repudiated his anti-Catholic attitude and statements. If candidates could only accept endorsements from people they were 100% in agreement with no one would be able to accept anyone’s endorsement! McCain did the right thing, but it gave his opposition ten days of media time to send out negative buzz to Catholic voters.

The bottom line is this: Any politician who wants to win the Catholic vote will not only have to contend with Catholic concerns about life issues but also avoid any flirtation with anti-Catholicism.

Pope Receives Muslim Critic of Osama bin Laden

Deal W. Hudson
March 24, 2008

A few days ago, Osama bin Laden released a message threatening Benedict XVI for leading a “new Crusade” against Islam. Whether he meant to or not, the Holy Father issued a ringing answer to the architect of 9/11 by receiving into the Church Europe’s most vocal Muslim critic of bin Laden and Islamic terrorism.

Magdi Allam, deputy director of Italy’s largest newspaper, is a leading journalist and author of several studies of Islamic extremists, including Osama bin Laden: A Journey Through Radical Islam (in Italian only).

He took the baptismal name of “Christian,” which underscored his decision to leave the community of Islam.

That Benedict chose to receive Allam personally has angered some prominent Muslims. “What amazes me is the high profile the Vatican has given this conversion,” Yaha Sergio Yahe Pallavicini, vice-president of the Italian Islamic Religious Community, told Reuters. “Why could he have not done this in his local parish?”

Fox commentator Greg Burke, a veteran Vatican reporter, warned of “repercussions” because of the “in your face” nature of Allam’s reception into the Church. The most obvious repercussions may be for Allam himself, who predicts he will receive his second “death sentence” for the “apostasy” of his conversion from Islam. The first death sentence he received came as a result of his public criticism of Islamic terrorism and his defense of Benedict’s 2006 speech at Regensburg.

“I realize what I am going up against, but I will confront my fate with my head high, with my back straight, and the interior strength of one who is certain about his faith,” said Allam.

The consternation of Muslim leaders like Pallavicini may throw a wrench into preparations for the upcoming meeting between the Holy Father and Islamic religious leaders. This meeting was scheduled for later this year after 138 prominent leaders signed a letter of protest to Benedict for his Regensburg speech, which raised the issue of Holy War and forced conversion in the history of Islam. Allam was critical of the letter to Benedict and refused to support it.

Allam, it seems, has not been a practicing Muslim for many years. “I was never practicing,” he was quoted in an Italian newspaper. “I never prayed five times a day, facing Mecca. I never fasted during Ramadan.”

Born to Muslim parents in Egypt, Allam was sent early to Catholic boarding school before moving to Italy and attending La Sapienza University, which was founded by Boniface VIII in 1303 but was secularized in 1870.

The mounting criticism of Allam from Muslims, along with the death threats, has led him to become a strong defender of Israel. Allam’s Viva Israele (Long Live Israel) was published last year.

“Having been condemned to death, I have reflected a long time on the value of life. And I discovered that behind the origin of the ideology of hatred, violence, and death is the discrimination against Israel. Everyone has the right to exist except for the Jewish state and its inhabitants… Today, Israel is the paradigm of the right to life.”

The Vatican has sought to downplay Allam’s conversion, saying, “For the Catholic Church, each person who asks to receive baptism after a deep personal search, a fully free choice, and adequate preparation, has a right to receive it.”

Of course, the same 138 Muslims who signed the letter protesting the Regensburg speech will note how the Vatican statement contrasts perfectly with the themes of Holy War and forced conversions that created the controversy in the first place.

In receiving Allam in St. Peter’s, the Holy Father has taken a public stance with a man whose articles are deliberately provocative. Take, for example, his column discussing his decision to convert. He described his embrace of Christianity as being “liberated from the obscurantism of an ideology which legitimizes lies and dissimulation, violent death, which induces both murder and suicide, and blind submission to tyranny.”

In contrast to Islam, Allam writes, “Christianity is the authentic religion of Truth, Life, and Liberty.” He adds, “Beyond the phenomenon of extremists and Islamist terrorism at the global level, the root of evil is inherent in a physiologically violent and historically conflictual Islam.”

Allam’s conversion and his very public reception by Benedict XVI heighten the drama surrounding the pope’s upcoming trip to the United States from April 15-20. Packed into that trip will be many opportunities for him to address, once again, the problem of Islamic extremism – most notably, his visit to “ground zero” in lower Manhattan on the last day of his stay.

Some commentators are predicting that the media will take a pass on Benedict’s first trip to the United States. It’s impossible to predict what might bump the pope out of the news cycle, but there are multiple dramas surrounding his trip, and the Allam affair has just added another one.

One can imagine that the Holy Father was advised not to receive Allam personally after the threat from bin Laden. But this is the man who “called out” Islamic extremists at Regensburg and then, risking his own safety, traveled to Turkey a year later. I cannot imagine Benedict changing his plans on account of any threat – least of all from the likes of Osama bin Laden.

Survey Takes a Revealing New Look at Religious Voters

Deal W. Hudson
June 17, 2008

A new survey on religion and politics provides important background on the dynamics at work among religious voters in 2008. The “National Survey on Religion and Public Life” published by the Paul B. Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin College was based on a large sample of 3,002 interviews, nearly three times the sample size of most political polls.

Analyzed by director Corin E. Smidt, the survey data yielded the following major conclusions:

Mainline Protestants are now firmly identified with the Democratic Party, 46 percent to 37 percent. Smidt calls this “a historical turning point,” but the shift has been in the making for over a decade. Taking their place in the Republican Party is, of course, the Evangelical voters – 54 percent to 25 percent, slightly down from 2004.

White Catholic loyalties lean slightly toward the Democrats, 41 percent to 38 percent, reflecting the 30-year migration of Catholics into the GOP. Democrats used to own the Catholic vote in years gone by.

The White Catholic vote is “up for grabs in the 2008 presidential election.” Because of the instability created by the unpopularity of the Iraq War, and the Vatican’s criticism of it, I agree with him.

The news about Latino Catholics is not good for the GOP. Only 15 percent call themselves Republican, compared to 57 percent for the Democrats. The number of independents among these voters is growing (28 percent). The good news for Republicans is that Latino Catholics can still vote in force for the GOP in spite of their party affiliation, as they did in 2004 when they cast 44 percent of their ballots for George W. Bush.

Individual religious beliefs and practices are more important than denominational affiliation in predicting political views. When you distinguish between traditionalists, centrists, and modernists within each denomination, each group’s politics will resemble the others across the denominations. Modernist Catholics will think politically like modernists belonging to other denominations, and so on.

This final point has been begging to be made for quite a while. The political preferences of Christian voters have everything to do with an individual’s view of traditional Christianity. This is the reason for the coalition of Evangelicals and pro-life Catholics in the religious conservative movement called the Religious Right.

Traditional believers of all denominations are more likely to be Republican, and modernists are more likely to be Democrats – with the odd exception of modernist Evangelicals, who lean toward the GOP.

The survey numbers on abortion and gay rights bear the importance of looking beyond denominational affiliation. Catholics overall agreed, 51 percent to 43 percent, that “abortion should be legal and solely up to the woman to decide.” Among traditionalist Catholics, the number changes dramatically, with 71 percent disagreeing. Modernists, not surprisingly, agree 80 percent with a woman’s “right to chose.”

Gay marriage is not supported as strongly as abortion among religious voters, but comparing 2004 with 2008, support appears to be growing: 9 percent among Evangelicals, 5 percent among mainline Protestants, but only 2 percent among Catholics, who have heard Benedict XVI quite outspoken in opposition to gay marriage.

The volatility of the Catholic vote created by the Iraq War was confirmed by the study’s findings. Non-Hispanic Catholics did not agree that the United States rightly took action against Iraq, 52 percent to 42 percent, while traditionalist Catholics supported the war 56 percent to 36 percent. Centrist and modernist Catholics overwhelmingly oppose the war: 54 percent to 34 percent, and 68 percent to 29 percent, respectively. Latino Catholics disapprove by a margin of 69 percent to 25 percent.

The softening of support for environmental regulation among Evangelicals and Catholics was a surprise finding. Evangelicals, who have been widely described as turning “green,” dropped 9 points (from 52 percent to 43 percent) in their agreement with government regulation of the environment. Catholics dropped 8 points, from 60 percent to 52 percent. Global warming may have peaked as a major political issue.

The survey also asked an interesting question about the religious expression on public property – whether “local communities should be allowed to post the Ten Commandments and other religious symbols in public buildings if the majority agrees.” This topic immediately brings derisive laughter from most media pundits, but a strong majority of Evangelicals (84 percent), Catholics (74 percent), Latino Catholics (57 percent), and mainline Protestants (74 percent) support displays of the Ten Commandments.

These numbers confirm the determination of Christians across the denominational and political spectrum to oppose the government-enforced secularization pursued by the ACLU, along with pro-abortion and gay-rights groups. Could McCain make this a campaign issue? Obama would likely take a pass to avoid irritating core supporters.

The Calvin College poll asked its respondents whether they would vote for McCain or the Democratic nominee (Obama was not yet the clear victor) for president in 2008. White Catholics favored McCain 43 percent to 39 percent, but Latino Catholics supported the Democratic nominee 63 percent to 19 percent. Evangelicals picked McCain 59 percent to 24 percent, and mainline Protestants slightly favored McCain over the Democrat; 19 percent were still undecided at the time of the survey.

The methodology of the survey suggests that an innovative way for political candidates to organize their religious outreach may be in the offing. Instead of a Catholic or Evangelical outreach, future campaigns may focus on the newer categories of “traditionalists” and “modernists,” regardless of denomination.

The Power of a Bold Bishop

Deal W. Hudson
December 1, 2008

An article published yesterday in the Scranton Times announced, “Bishop takes his place on the national stage with his staunch anti-abortion stance.” Bishop Joseph F. Martino wasn’t the only bishop who spoke boldly during the presidential campaign, but he was noticed, in part, because Scranton is Vice-President Elect Joe Biden’s hometown.

Martino was also noticed because he quite literally crashed a seminar on “Faithful Citizenship” being held against his wishes at St. John’s Catholic Church. Objecting to the spin being put on the bishops’ conference document, Martino told those attending the seminar, “No social issue has caused the deaths of 50 million people,” adding, “This is madness, people.”

The Scranton Times rightly observes that Bishop Martino has not become a national figure merely because of his prominence during the election. But the article fails to note a very important and pertinent fact: Catholics in Pennsylvania did not vote for Barack Obama as they did nationally: Self-identified Catholics in Pennsylvania voted 52 percent to 48 percent for McCain.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported this fact but made no attempt to discover the reasons for the anomaly. Pro-life activist Brian Gail from Philadelphia has no doubts as to the cause; he credits Scranton’s bishop for this result: “One man did this, and did it all but single-handedly. His name is Bishop Joe Martino.”

Other Catholics involved in the campaign agree with Gail and view the numbers in Pennsylvania as something to build upon. Bud Hansen Jr. from Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, was co-chair of Catholics for McCain. “I am happy to say that our efforts were not in vain. The results tell us that we can re-build the Catholic vote in our state, starting from the grassroots. There is no question that there are very major problems that we are facing at this time, including the economy, immigration, healthcare, and especially national security, but all these issues can be dealt with at the same time that we are protecting life.”

Also not mentioned in the Scranton Times profile was the most important thing the bishop said the night he walked in on the “Faithful Citizenship” seminar: “No USCCB document is relevant in this diocese,” he was quoted as saying in the Wayne County Independent. “The USCCB doesn’t speak for me.”

Nothing stirs the pot like a bishop declaring his independence from the bishops’ conference. Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, told the Scranton Times “that people perceive him to be a spokesman” for the U.S. bishops, when “the views he has voiced do not represent the U.S. bishops as a whole.”

But the bishops are clearly divided over “Faithful Citizenship” – there is no unified understanding of its interpretation. Furthermore, Father Reese does not mention the 100 bishops who did speak out in the last six weeks of the campaign.

The Scranton Times article concludes that Bishop Martino is now “disliked” in his diocese, quoting William Parente, a political science professor at the University of Scranton. Parente suggests, “The solution to the problem is for the papal nuncio to promote Bishop Martino to a commission in the Vatican where he can start fresh, and we can appoint one of the local clergies who would be more popular as the new bishop.”

Bishop Martino may not be popular among the Catholic Left, but he has become a hero to Catholics all across the nation, and that is what has some people (perhaps Parente?) worried. No doubt Bishop Martino is unconcerned about a loss of popularity among some of his flock.

That the majority of Pennsylvania Catholics bucked the national trend and voted against Obama is a fact that requires further investigation. Such study will very likely reveal a lesson in leadership – one that will be of particular interest to all the bishops as we approach the consideration of the Freedom of Choice Act.

Preparing Catholics for the 2016 Election

In May 2016, I gave a speech to a group of Catholic activists in Cincinnati, Ohio, gathered together by Priests for Life, on how Catholics could make THE difference in the upcoming presidential election. I specifically outlined the ways the institutional Church would try to oppose Catholic efforts on behalf of the pro-life cause.  What I predicted did, indeed, happen, and in quite dramatic fashion.  Fortunately, Catholic voters overcame clerical resistance and voted 52% to 45% for the Trump/Pence ticket.

Catholic Opinion by the Numbers: A Revealing New Poll

By Deal W. Hudson

Nanci Pelosi calls herself a conservative Catholic. Sure, she may be in favor of abortion, women priests, and homosexual marriages, but according to the House minority leader, that has no bearing on her life as a Catholic.

How does she define “conservative Catholic”? In a January interview with the National Catholic Reporter, Pelosi explains, “I was raised… in a very strict upbringing in a Catholic home where we respected people, were observant, [and where] the fundamental belief was that God gave us all a free will and we were accountable for that, each of us.”

Pelosi’s brand of Catholicism—one concerned with culture, roots, and a vague notion of “respect”—is fairly common in the ranks of Catholic politicians. Believing their faith to be merely a cultural heritage rather than a living guide, they are happy to call themselves Catholic at election time and then, once in office, behave in conspicuously un-Catholic ways.

Unfortunately, this is not a problem reserved for campaigning politicians. Catholics in all walks of life, prelate and layman alike, manage to rationalize the disjunction between the demands of their faith and the reality of their voting habits. In an attempt to shore up the distance between faith and practice, the Vatican published its Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life earlier this year. Put simply, the document points out that “a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals,” specifically including such divisive issues as abortion, euthanasia, and homosexual unions.

Whether they are simply unaware of this fact or choose to ignore it, studies have shown that Catholic voting trends on these issues tend to be no different from those of the general public. Such studies have led many pundits to disregard the possibility of a unified Catholic vote to which a politician could appeal with any sort of regularity. Catholics may account for a quarter of the nation’s population and a third of its voters, but these numbers alone aren’t enough to effect any sort of positive change.

However, what the pundits fail to recognize—but most any Catholic could tell you—is that there’s a significant difference between the habits of a practicing Catholic and one who, like Pelosi, keeps the title as a cultural reference only. The number of such “inactive” Catholics is relatively high, and their voting practices will not differ substantially from the population at large. Group all these Catholics together in an opinion poll and the results will be inconclusive at best, with no clear voice prevailing.

This realization was the driving force behind a survey conducted by Crisis in 1998. The poll asked self-identified Catholics questions on issues of politics, faith, and morals, and responses were broken down according to how often that person attended Mass in a standard month. The results were telling: The more often a person attended Mass, the more likely his answers were in line with Church teaching. After clearing away the various views of inactive Catholics, what was left was a relatively uniform group of Catholic opinions. With a solid core of committed Catholics, the survey proved that active Catholics were indeed a well-defined constituency. Based on an analysis of their past voting trends, these Catholics were found to be moving out of the Democratic Party, where they had long been entrenched, and instead becoming the swing voters in any given election.

As a follow-up to the 1998 survey, Crisis conducted another survey in November 2002 structured in a similar fashion with many of the same questions regarding political and moral issues (for the full results of the survey, visit our Web site at This second survey established once again that when it comes to voting and public opinion, the distinction between an active and an inactive Catholic is crucial. Even then, however, Catholics still have a long way to go in acting consistently on the teachings of the Faith.

The Laity

No matter how else they may disagree, Catholics of all stripes identify the decline of individual morality in America as a serious problem. Seventy-three percent of all Catholics and 79 percent of active Catholics acknowledge the reality of this crisis, while similar numbers attribute the problem to the negative influence of popular culture. It can hardly be surprising that there should be such consensus, especially given recent revelations about the sex-abuse scandal in the Church. If such an erosion of personal morals could be found among leaders of the Church—the very institution responsible for guiding the laity in matters of morality—then it’s no wonder that Catholics have little faith in society at large.

But while both active and inactive Catholics can agree on the existence of a moral crisis, the two groups have little in common when it comes to political legislation regarding moral issues. Take the question of same-sex marriage: Inactive Catholics are generally opposed to laws that would grant married status to homosexual couples (66 percent), while active Catholics would oppose such a motion much more frequently (75 percent). The same holds true for abortion:

Only 36 percent of inactive Catholics would favor “enacting legal restrictions on abortion in order to reduce the number of abortions being performed,” compared with 55 percent of active Catholics. In the case of human embryo cloning, not even a majority of inactive Catholics would outlaw it: 55 percent would allow cloning for medical research, while 58 percent of active Catholics would outlaw cloning in all cases.

One may ask how inactive Catholics could be so out of step with Church teaching. The more pressing question, however, is why aren’t active Catholics more in step with that teaching? Though the numbers may be higher than a similar response from the general population, the fact that only 55 percent of regular church-goers would favor restrictions on abortion is baffling. Indeed, it seems to fly in the face of everything one would expect from committed Catholics. How could it be possible?

It’s likely that had the question been worded differently to emphasize the morality of the issue rather than the legislative procedures surrounding it, active Catholics might have stood more firmly behind the Church’s teaching on such issues. A small comfort, however, when one considers the implications of holding such beliefs without the commitment to act on them. As a result, many Catholics have fallen into a sort of Cuomo Catholicism, one that is active in private worship but not in public practice.

This sad conclusion is consistent with the reaction of some Catholics to political and moral questions of a lesser magnitude that were also in the survey. Seventy-six percent of active Catholics are in favor of school vouchers, for example, and 68 percent would oppose forcing Catholic hospitals to provide contraceptives and abortions to its patients. Just as these Catholics seem hesitant to force their beliefs on society, so too would they resent the advances of society on their own institutions and beliefs. The “live and let live” approach sits well with such Catholics.

But the Vatican says that isn’t enough. The doctrinal note maintains that “there cannot be two parallel lives in [Catholics’] existence; on the one hand, the so-called ‘spiritual life,’ with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called ‘secular’ life, that is, life in a family, at work, in social responsibilities, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture.” The dignity of life is not the private opinion of select Catholics but a truth that transcends human institutions. “Democracy must be based on the true and solid foundation of non-negotiable ethical principles,” the note states, “which are the underpinning of life in society.”

The Bishops

While it’s ultimately the responsibility of the laity to make the connection between beliefs and voting habits, blame for letting such behavior pass without comment has often been laid at the feet of the bishops. Members of the clergy are called to task for being conspicuously silent on the standard hot-button issues of abortion, euthanasia, and their respective counterparts. After reports of sexual abuse surfaced, however, similar silence was seen not only as irresponsible but morally reprehensible. The lack of action by certain bishops is jeopardizing the authority of all bishops.

Should they think otherwise, the bishops need only read the results of the survey. Only a slim majority of active Catholics-52 percent—is supportive of the manner in which the bishops have responded to the abuse crisis; inactive Catholics are much more critical, with only 35 percent being satisfied by the bishops’ response. There is no group firmly in the bishops’ corner; even large donors and those who attend Mass more than five times a month have a high rate of dissatisfaction. Given that much of their support—monetary or otherwise—generally comes from these groups, all bishops will likely feel a strain in clergy-laity relations as a result.

The approval ratings for bishops may gradually recover over time. A more disturbing and, perhaps, more lasting trend is that a large percentage of Catholics have less faith in the moral teachings of the Church as a result of the scandal. Sixty-six percent of active Catholics claim their faith is unshaken, but the fact that even 29 percent would now doubt those teachings is a serious issue (5 percent remained unsure). And unfortunately, those in the best position to reassure the doubters are part of the cause for doubt.

Bishops can do a number of things to stave off further disappointment and disaster. For one, they must remain diligent in their work to repair past cases of abuse. But the laity also needs proof that everything possible is being done to prevent these crimes in the future. A full 65 percent of all Catholics believe the abuse is still occurring today, so an appeal to forgiveness for past mistakes will not be enough to allay those fears. Visible, public steps must be taken at this point: Whether going into seminaries or going out to comfort the abused, members of the flock need to feel that their shepherd is leading the fight in this scandal, not being dragged along unwillingly.

Once again, the Vatican has clear directives for those in power: “A political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church’s social doctrine does not exhaust one’s responsibility towards the common good. Nor can a Catholic think of delegating his Christian responsibility to others; rather, the Gospel of Jesus Christ gives him this task, so that the truth about man and the world might be proclaimed and put into action.” The bishops must shoulder this responsibility if the laity will ever be encouraged to follow.

The President

With such emphasis placed on the laity’s involvement in the political sphere, it becomes important for politicians—Catholic and non-Catholic alike—to understand where the support of active Catholic voters is likely to be found. The political press core identified the 1998 poll as providing a valuable tool to then-Governor George W. Bush in his campaign for the White House. President Bush was able to appeal to specific concerns and interests of active Catholics, attracting support with his platform of “compassionate conservatism.”

The work paid off: Bush was elected and is currently enjoying fairly regular support from Catholics. Seventy-two percent of active Catholics approve of the job Bush is doing as president (well above the usual numbers for general public opinion), and 57 percent feel that he’s supportive of Catholic values. One could say that Bush has won the respect of active-Catholic voters, but there are still a lot of voters who need to be convinced of his dedication. It’s one thing to note that 22 percent of active Catholics don’t think he’s supportive of their values; the fact that 22 percent aren’t sure one way or the other shows that Bush still has a lot of room to persuade them.

Part of the reason for this ambiguity among Catholics may be the result of the president’s stand on the war in Iraq. In a departure from the usual trend, support is greater among inactive Catholics on the issue. Only 52 percent of active Catholics favored intervening in Iraq. Most likely, the words of the bishops condemning the idea of war had a great impact on active Catholics—a reality that could be problematic for a president who may be largely remembered for his stand against Saddam Hussein.

How, then, does one win back those active Catholics who did not support the president’s stance on the conflict? This subsection tends to be more disapproving of Bush’s job as president, with only 50 percent supporting him, and is more skeptical of his support for Catholic values (32 percent). There’s room for improvement, however: 27 percent of these Catholics are unsure of his commitment—a window of opportunity for the president to convince them otherwise.

Most active Catholics who opposed Bush on Iraq identify themselves as Democrats; they were more apt to vote for Al Gore in the last election than the general population of Catholics but consider themselves more moderate than anything else. They had the same ambiguity regarding the question of abortion legislation, and yet—curiously enough—would more readily identify themselves as pro-life.

Bush can appeal to these voters by raising the bar. These Catholics are attracted to the ideas of compassionate conservatism: work permits for immigrants, protection of the unborn, tuition vouchers for schoolchildren. They want government out of Catholic institutions and evidence that the president is fighting the general moral decay they see in society. The answer is not to vacillate on these issues in the hopes of attracting greater numbers but to demonstrate that he will be a champion for life and those policies he already supports. Bush cannot present himself simply as the lesser of two evils but must be seen as a proactive leader who will attain results.

Whatever choices the candidates represent, however, the responsibility ultimately returns to the laity. Without the dedication to vote their Catholic conscience, an army of committed Catholic politicians will be of no use. Catholics—those in public office and those who vote for them—need to be reminded of their duty to the universal truths taught by the Church and upheld by natural law, a responsibility that can never be shirked.

Published in Crisis Magazine, March 1, 2003.