The History of the Catholic vote
In 1960, John F. Kennedy (D) was the first Catholic to be elected President of the United States –a monumental time in history. The 1960 election proved America had reached a peak of acceptance towards Catholics –a group that had been very loyal to the Democratic Party. But the years following Kennedy’s presidency saw a shift in the Catholic vote. Nationally, Democrats moved markedly to the left upsetting many Catholics. As a result, in 1972 Richard Nixon (R) claimed the Catholic vote, the first time a Republican had won this group in over twenty years. All other groups also went Republican except for the non-white vote. After this election, Catholics truly began to evolve into this bellwether voting bloc. In 1980 and 1984, Catholics, along with many other groups, voted for Ronald Reagan (R). But George H.W. Bush (R) lost the Catholic vote to Michael Dukakis (D) in 1988.
Though Catholics have over time traditionally voted in favor of Democrats, they don’t necessarily vote for fellow Catholics – as John Kerry (D), who is Catholic, figured out in 2004. In 2004, George W. Bush (R), a Methodist, claimed the Catholic vote. In 2008 and 2012, President Obama won the Catholic vote even with his attempt to force religious institutions to cover medical services and procedures that violate religious practices. In 2012, both parties had a Catholic vice presidential nominee. CNN described Obama’s running mate, Joe Biden as a Vatican II generation Catholic reared on the “lofty ambitions” of the 1960s. In the 2012 Presidential election, the Obama Administration went up against a practicing Mormon, Mitt Romney (R). Romney’s running mate, Representative Paul Ryan (R- WI 1) is said to be a conservative Catholic.
The chart below shows how Catholics voted in Presidential Elections, 1972-2012
Today was Pope Francis’ papal inauguration – he is now the head of the estimated 1.9 billion Catholics in the world after the recent resignation of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. This marks the first pope to be elected from Latin America. Many political pundits wonder how the new Pope may impact Catholic voting in America. Catholic identification is at a four decade low in the United States. According to Gallup, Latinos – the largest growing demographic in the U.S. – identify as Catholic, although the Catholic percentage among Latinos appears to be decreasing, and the youngest Latinos are less likely to be Catholic than their older counterparts. While their numbers are dwindling, Latino Catholics still make up a large subgroup of Catholic voters (the largest is made up of White Catholic moderates). White Catholics as a whole have been divided in recent elections; a group who normally describe themselves as reliable conservatives. Their numbers are shrinking, which mirrors what is happening among the electorate in the United States. Will the election of this new pope and the increasing number of Latinos in the United States lead to a realignment of this group in the United States, and will they continue to be a predictor of U.S. Presidential elections? Only time will tell.
Click here for the religious affiliations of our current and former U.S. Presidents