As the presidential race heats up, both parties are looking at so called swing voters, those who have in the past gone from one party to another dependent on the candidates and on the issues. One of the largest groups is the Catholic vote. Once solidly Democratic and working class, Catholics have voted Republican in larger numbers from Reagan to Bush II. The Catholic hierarchy has become committed to the Republican party, especially in national bishops conference statements; one thinks at times they are an arm of the GOP national committee. They have elevated opposition to abortion to the highest echelon and no other issue, including social justice or the end of war, are even close in their view. In an apparent, though veiled, attempt to support pro-life candidates who are nearly always Republican they have even attempted to influence people in the pew.
The most recent Pew Forum poll, as summarized by Patricia Zapor, presents a very different picture of the "elusive Catholic voter." The study of 1,007 Catholic votes found 41 percent unaffiliated with either the Democrat Party or the Republican Party, with 38 percent being Democrats and 21 percent Republican.
The study found that:
- 78 percent said the US should guarantee basic heath care for all citizens
- 58 percent said a woman should have the right to choose an abortion. Sixteen percent believed abortion should be legal in all cases, and another 32 percent say it should be legal in most cases, Eighteen percent said it should be illegal in all cases, 27 percent said it should be illegal in most cases.
- 41 percent said they believe all human life, from conception to natural death is sacred
- The largest segment of the Catholics survey, 33 percent, said they are most influenced by personal experiences in their thinking about government or public affairs; the next largest was 23 percent who said they are most influenced by the news media; 14 percent said their education influenced them, and only 9 percent said religious beliefs are their biggest influence.
- In deciding right and wrong, people cite practical experience and common sense with 57 percent holding that view, followed by 22 percent who said religious teachings and beliefs were the guideposts.
- 36 percent are conservative, 38 percent are moderates; 18 percent are liberal
The picture that emerges is of a voting group that is remarkably similar to the general population, more supportive of strict environmental laws, more committed to diplomacy than to military force, more concerned with domestic problems than overseas issues, more concerned about helping the needy. Any candidate trying to woo the Catholic vote ought to know better than the clergy or the Catholic media what the layman and woman are thinking.
Michael P. Riccards is Executive Director of the Hall Institute of Public Policy – New Jersey.