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The “Catholic Vote”: No Longer a National Bellwether

In the past, Catholics were 25% of the U.S. population. Catholics now constitute 19.1% of the population according to the 2010 U.S Religion Census conducted by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (ASARB). Catholics previously were 30% of the electorate. They are now down to 22% of registered voters according to a Sept. 12-16 poll by the Pew Forum. (In this survey, 19.6% of Catholic registered voters are Hispanic. In the November 2008 election, Hispanics were 7.9% of all registered voters.)

An older Catholic who hasn’t stepped foot inside a church for years may still self-identify as Catholic in response to a telephone poll. But more Millennials (25%) than any other age group self-identify as non-affiliated. “Catholics and white mainline Protestants saw the largest net losses due to Millennials’ movement away from their childhood religious affiliation.”

So demographically, Catholics voters are proportionately fewer in number, more Hispanic and probably older than the general population.

According to Pew, non-Hispanic Catholics have steadfastly identified with or leaned towards the Republican Party since 2009 and have consistently favored Romney over Obama in the past year, while Hispanic Catholics favor the Democrats two to one. This would indicate that a Catholic independent or undecided vote is of little statistical importance, at least insofar as their religion plays a deciding factor in how they cast their ballot.

Yet we still have pundits writing about “the importance of the Catholic vote,” that “Both campaigns should take heed” of the Catholic vote, and “If you want to find the absolute center in American politics, you could do worse than look at the nation’s Catholic vote.”

Nor is there a “Catholic vote” likely to regain any significance soon.

In a recent NPR segment, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano stated that immigration numbers are now down to 1971 levels, depriving the American Catholic Church of the major source of even a semblance of static membership in the past decade. And of those already here, “The number of Hispanics self-identifying as Catholics has declined from nearly 100 percent in just two decades, while the number who describe themselves as Protestant has nearly doubled and the number saying they have ‘no religion’ has also doubled,” Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles noted in a 2009 talk.

The exodus from the Catholic Church as first reported in the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life 2007 survey which famously noted that, although a third of U.S. adultshad been raised as Catholics, only 23.9% still self-identified with the denomination, continues unabated.

The Boston archdiocese which had reduced its parishes from 357 in 2004 down to 288, is now reporting the number of parishes will be further reduced to 135 “clusters” in the future “as national trends show more people leaving Church.” This past year, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput closed 9 parishes and 27 schools and admits that a further “scaled-down” organization is on the horizon. They join dozens of U.S. dioceses which have already closed hundreds of parishes or are planning on doing so.

There will not be a “Catholic vote” which merits attention from politicos again for a long time.

6 Responses

  1. Betty, thank you for this wonderfully well-researched article (as with all of your articles). It is very informative and useful. I wish all the media commentators talking about “the” Catholic vote could read it!

    • Thanks so much. You are so kind. Yes, I got tired of reading about the “Catholic vote” which is so fragmented as to be meaningless.

  2. I wish all those who think the Hispanic Church is going to save US Catholicism would assimilate the statistics about Hispanic losses. They are leaving for the same types of reasons Anglo Catholics are leaving. They can not relate to the current kind of Church we now have. We are losing the relational aspect of the Church in favor of conformity.

    • You are so right, Colleen. Some of the older generation of immigrants may cling to their own Latino communities within the RCC umbrella, but the assimilated younger generation will not. Even among the older folks, many have left already for other Christian churches. Betty

  3. Do you think the church will learn from this?
    they would rather let the church die a long slow death then give up any of their power. They should be silent and learn from the laity.

    • It has often been said that from the beginning of his reign, Ratzinger wanted a smaller, “purer” church. I think the hierarchs are happy to see any Catholic who doesn’t want to “pay, pray and obey” exit. They have no intention of learning from the laity because they think we have nothing to teach them.

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