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Interesting survey: American Catholics and party politics

This is from the National Catholic Reporter. The information is particularly surprising to me, but it’s still fascinating to see it broken down like this. I wonder how the Democrats and Republicans will digest this information and target this group in campaigns.

Actually, the person who should be taking a hard look at this is Ratzi and his Vatican hit squad. He’s not on the same page as American Catholics at all, and the numbers detect real potential for a backlash as he attempts to rein in the flock.

American Catholics played an important if not decisive role in the 2004 national elections. Abortion, same sex marriage and stem cell research were all important issues on the minds of voters, and all indications are that they will continue to be. These issues have become part of a culture war in which two opposing views of the good society have increasingly spread across secular and religious lines. The lines are clearly drawn within the U.S. Congress, where conservative Protestants and Catholics form the core of the Republican Party while progressive Catholics, Jews and African-Americans form the core of the Democratic Party.

For American Catholics, the roots of this growing polarization, and with it a questioning of moral authority of the Vatican, are multifold. They are found in the rising level of formal education of Catholics, in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, in the decision of Pope Paul VI to reject the recommendation of his Birth Control Commission to change the church’s teaching on birth control, in the failure of U.S. bishops to support the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin’s effort to open a national dialogue on “the consistent ethic of life,” in the efforts of Pope John Paul II to refocus the church’s moral authority back to the Vatican, and most recently in the sex abuse scandal.

Thus, just as the Catholic church’s moral authority has been weakened by its teaching on birth control, its teachings on abortion and same-sex marriage have drawn attention away from its teachings in support of issues such as poor families without health insurance. Increasingly, knowing a person is Catholic does not predict her or his attitudes on these issues.

Here are some of the demographics on party affiliation:

* 41 percent of Catholics are Democrats
* 37 percent are Republicans
* 22 percent Independents

* Catholic women that are Democrats: 57 percent
* Catholic women registered as Republicans: 51 percent
* Catholic women who call themselves Independents: 54 percent

* Republicans are slightly more likely to be married, but also divorced
* Democrats more likely to have never married.
* Republicans have more members with college and graduate and professional degrees
* Democrats have more who had a high school education or less.

There is a distinct generational difference that is meaningful, with more drift away from hardline thinking:

Post-Vatican II Catholics were significantly more Republican than Democratic. However, when we break down the post-Vatican II generation into Gen X, all those born between 1961 and 1978, and the new Millennials, the youngest group of Catholics born between 1979 and 1987, we find a striking difference:

Generation X: Republicans, 49 percent; Democrats, 34 percent; Independents, 17 percent.
Millennials: Republicans, 29 percent; Democrats, 58 percent; Independents, 13 percent

Here are the findings on church teachings.

And here’s a little info that is going to make Pope Ratzi’s head explode. Only 29% of the flock think celibate male clergy is important, and:

Plus, the laity wants to decide where the money goes. If Ratzi doesn’t watch out, the cash flow is going to dry up.

What does it all mean? Who knows. I’d love to see data on the black faith community like this.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding