“In other words, it’s the contrast between a white-collar and a blue-collar Catholicism. The oscillation between those two poles has sort of been the story of the “Catholic vote” in America, and right now the pendulum seems to be swinging again in the blue-collar direction.”
John L. Allen Jr.
This past week, on November 6th, 2018, Democrats and Republicans (and even some third parties) faced off in the U.S. midterm elections. The results are in, and they are just what the political experts predicted. The Republicans won the races that everyone was talking about. They won the Senate majority with key races like that in Texas, the governor’s race in Florida and, most likely, that in Georgia. The Democrats, however, took control of the House of Representatives by turning many red districts blue. Now that all of the excitement is over and the elections results decided, except for a few states still in contention, we can examine the demographics of the vote that this entire seminar is centered around: the Catholic vote.
According to a poll by Pew Research Center, “50% of Catholics voted for Democratic candidates and 49% cast their ballots for Republicans”. The results, Catholic News Agency reports, are much closer than in previous midterm elections. For example, in 2014, “54% of the Catholic voting pool chose GOP candidates, leaving just 45% in support of the Dems.”. The shift in these results over the course of just four years shows a significant tightening and alignment between Catholic support for the two dominating parties. But how effective was it in deciding the results of the elections?
In my opinion, Catholics could have contributed more to the election if they had a higher turnout at the polls. “For one thing, the Catholic share of the overall vote went up two points since 2014, from 24 to 26 percent. That likely reflects higher Latino voter registration and turnout in key races”. Although it seems that the overall Catholic vote has increased a couple of points since 2014, I believe that a higher turnout from the growing Latino population could have had a significantly more profound effect on the results of some of the close elections. As America Magazine states, “though the Catholic vote was important, the polling group P.R.R.I estimated that white evangelicals continues to be overrepresented at the polls this year”.
As I had mentioned in my previous blog post about the state of the Catholic vote in contemporary America, Catholic voters are becoming increasingly diverse and are forming internal divides between themselves. According to AP data, “white Catholics broke 56 to 41 percent for Republican candidates, with the six-point gap between the Catholic total and white Catholics explained by a strongly Democratic vote among Latino, African-American, and other minority Catholic groups”. This data clues us into this growing divide between white Catholics and all other Catholics, but in particular, the increasingly larger Hispanic Catholic population. This voting data paints the current state of the Catholic Church in America as two Catholic Americas: one largely white, affluent, and Republican, and the other largely Latino, rather economically disadvantaged, and Democratic.
This coincides directly with the increasing diversity between Catholics. It can be rather easy to lump all of the Catholic voters together and claim that they all vote the same on issues that are sensitive to the Church’s teachings, but in contemporary America, that could not be more incorrect. There seems to be an overwhelming white majority representing the Catholic vote, and they historically have voted Republican, as they have in these midterms. However, due to the increasing population of Latino Catholics in the United States, the Democratic portion of the Catholic vote is increasing year-to-year, as it is directly proportional to the Latino population getting out to the polls. As seen in this year’s elections, Catholics seem to be split fairly equally across party lines, but as population demographics suggest, there may be an edge for the Democratic Party in future years as the Latino contribution to the Catholic vote continues to grow with their growing population base.
In fact, after attending the Behind the Tweets: Mid-Term Postmortem panel this past week and listening to the panels speak, there seemed to be a consensus that not enough Latino voters made it out to the polls for their vote to be as effective as it could be. There was discussion about the difficulties in candidates attempting to access and reach the Latino population and motivate them to go to the polls, and although there was a significant number of Latinos that did go and vote, it could have potentially been the swing vote in states that already have a large Latino population, specifically Texas. The Senate election in Texas was one that captivated the nation and arguably generated the most excitement amongst voters. Republican candidate Ted Cruz faced off against Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke for Texas’s Senate seat. While Cruz has historically held this position as Texas has almost always been a Republican state, Beto gave Cruz a run for his money, with 50.9% of voters choosing Cruz to Beto’s 48.3% .
These numbers, for a state that is historically red, are astounding and shows that Democratic candidates, not just in Texas but all over the nation, were really able to motivate their political base and move people to the polls in a way that they have not seen in a long time coming. Although Cruz took the win in Texas, speculators wonder if more Latinos had turned up at the polls, would O’Rourke have won? And that was a key discussion point during this panel that not only in Texas, but had more Latinos made it out the polls, there may have been some flipping from red states to blue. The question is now that with the Latino population growing in the U.S. and amongst American Catholics, they are likely to become the future majority of the Church, and with them historically voting Democratic, will Democratic candidates be able to motivate them to the polls in ways like Donald Trump and the Republicans can for white, rural Americans?
Catholic voters have had a tendency to represent the entirety of the American population in terms of voting patterns. There are clearly staunch divides between Catholics and where they politically reside, but this also applies to the majority of Americans. With more and more of these polarizing elections for the presidency, the House and Senate, and even the Supreme Court with regards to Justice Kavanaugh, Americans are continually straying further apart from each other and nesting in their identified parties. So I suppose the biggest question now that affects all Americans, not just American Catholics, is where do we go now?
We currently live in a political climate with a majority party that likes to play on fear, and it works. Heading into the 2020 presidential elections, it is more important now than ever, for us as Americans to take a step back and look at the overarching picture of things. These midterms have shown us that both parties are adopting fear-mongering into their political strategy to bring voters to the polls. And as Ruben Navarrette states in their article “Midterms 2018: Deception and Fear”, “you can always try to counter fear with facts. That is to be expected. But don’t assume much will come of that. Fear doesn’t usually listen to facts. And, these days, it is stone-cold deaf to them”.
This seminar and this year’s midterms have pushed me to confront my position on political issues that typically do not like to get heavily involved in, and this statement on our current political climate sums up my current perspective on what it means to be an American and where I believe this country needs to go to shed the tensions that are constantly being stirred by administration that plays off of fear and deception:
“In the end, it’s all about being better. We should all aspire to something better. Americans have to do better. We have to communicate better, and show more respect to one another. We need to engage in the political system in better and more productive ways. Our elected officials need better ways of addressing us, and they should try to be better people. And, most of all, we should demand better of them, of ourselves, and of this great country”.
Interested in more? Click the play button below to listen to a podcast done by the National Catholic Reporter regarding the 2018 midterm elections and the Catholic vote.
Notes “Post-Midterms, Do We Have Two Catholic Churches in America?” Crux, 9 Nov. 2018, cruxnow.com/news-analysis/2018/11/08/post-midterms-do-we-have-two-catholic-churches-in-america/. Mauro. “Catholic Voters Split in 2018 Midterm Elections.” Aleteia - Catholic Spirituality, Lifestyle, World News, and Culture, Aleteia, 9 Nov. 2018, aleteia.org/2018/11/09/catholic-voters-split-in-2018-midterm-elections/. “Your Catholic 2018 Midterm Roundup: Health Care, Wages, Abortion and More.” America Magazine, 8 Nov. 2018, www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2018/11/07/your-catholic-2018-midterm-roundup-health-care-wages-abortion-and-more. “Texas Election Results.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 6 Nov. 2018, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/11/06/us/elections/results-texas-elections.html. “Midterms 2018: Deception and Fear.” Tilma, angelusnews.com/voices/ruben-navarrette/midterms-2018-deception-and-fear. “NCR Podcast: The 2018 Midterm Elections and the Catholic Vote.” National Catholic Reporter, 1 Nov. 2018, www.ncronline.org/news/politics/ncr-conversation/ncr-podcast-2018-midterm-elections-and-catholic-vote.