by Jonathan Singer, Mon Jun 23, 2008 at 07:28:12 PM EDT
Back in 2004, exit polling indicated that George W. Bush carried the Catholic vote by a 52 percent to 47 percent margin, one of the keys to his successful reelection effort. In 2006, the Catholic vote swung to the Democrats, with Catholic voters backing Democratic congressional candidates by a 55 percent to 44 percent margin. Much of that swing came from Hispanic voters, who upped their support for the Democrats by 10 to 15 points; the White Catholic vote split 50 percent for the Democrats and 49 percent for the Republicans that fall according to exit polling. So will the Catholic vote continue to be split relatively evenly between the parties? New polling from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University (.pdf) indicates that Catholic voters are less likely to identify as Republican today than they have been at any other point this decade.
According to the CARA poll, just 21 percent of Catholic voters -- just one in five -- self-identify as Republican, down 10 percentage points from 2004. When leaners are thrown in, the Democratic advantage among American Catholics is a remarkable 60 percent to 36 percent. Nearly seven in ten Hispanic Catholics (69 percent) either identify or lean towards identifying with the Democrats while just 29 percent do so with the Republicans. And White Catholics, who as noted above split almost exactly evenly in 2006, identify as or lean towards the Democrats by a 52 percent to 40 percent margin.
At present, it appears that much of the movement has been away from the Republican Party rather than towards the Democratic Party. While the Democrats' numbers have held strong, the Republicans' numbers among Catholics have simply tanked since President Bush won reelection. It is for this reason, among others, that some have mentioned the name Jack Reed, a progressive Senator from Rhode Island who happens to be of the Catholic faith, or other leading Catholic Democrats like Tim Kaine, Tom Daschle, John Kerry, Joe Biden, and Bill Richardson (Update [2008-6-23 23:54:9 by Jonathan Singer]: And don't let me forget Kathleen Sebelius, who is also Catholic, as well as Wes Clark), as a potential running mate for Barack Obama.
But regardless of whom Obama decides to tap to join him on the Democratic ticket in 2008, one thing is clear: the Democrats have a great opportunity to pick up a whole swath of votes from Catholic voters disenchanted with the Republican Party and would be well served working to cultivate votes among this demographic.
(You can check out more on the poll from Marc Ambinder.)