Sunday, January 02, 2005

The Catholic Vote

Peter Steinfels in his Notes From 2004 piece has this to say about the effect of some bishops on the Catholic vote,

During the presidential race, a number of Roman Catholic bishops publicly signaled that the issues determining how Catholics should vote were abortion, embryonic stem cell research and same-sex marriage, conveying a strong impression that this meant vote for President Bush.

Actually, far more bishops either held their peace or advised Catholics to consider a wider range of issues. But the outspoken minority, as so often, garnered the publicity. The effects, in terms of the anger of Catholics who supported Senator John Kerry and the renewed energy among Catholic conservatives, are apt to be felt in the Catholic population for a long time.

Still, a postelection Zogby poll casts a curious light on the matter. One question, addressed to a sample of almost 3,000 Catholic voters, stated that "some conservative groups informed Catholic voters that certain issues, like abortion and stem cell research, were nonnegotiable." Had that claim, the question continued, made the respondent much more likely to vote for Mr. Bush, somewhat more likely to vote for him, much more or somewhat more likely to vote for Mr. Kerry, or had it made no difference?

Just under 19 percent of the Catholic voters said the appeals had increased the likelihood of their voting for Mr. Bush. Just under 25 percent said it had increased the likelihood of their voting for Mr. Kerry. The rest said it had made no difference.

If those results are at all accurate - and one stresses the "if," because so many uncertainties lurk behind even the most seemingly straightforward poll data - they raise an odd possibility. Would the Democratic candidate have actually done better among Catholic voters if there had been more, not less, support for the president by Catholic bishops? Pro-Kerry Catholics may still want to argue that the Bush-backing bishops acted inappropriately as church leaders. But maybe the Kerry camp also owes those bishops a round of thanks.

Interesting stuff. I too am skeptical about Zogby's poll, but if true the Catholic vote is more confusing than we think.


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