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Phase I: The Mind of the Catholic Voter

"Catholics may be the most maddening electoral group in American politics, the demographic block that drives pollsters, pundits, and politicians of all stripes to distraction.  Lately, Catholics -- at 50 million strong -- have emerged as the Holy Grail of coalition politics, and they have the distinction of clustering in states rich in electoral votes, like Florida, Texas, California, New York, Ohio, and Illinois.  Everyone agrees that their political allegiance is now up for grabs after decades of being a lock for the Democrats, but they are also surprisingly finicky, refusing to become solid party votes.  And it's not that they switch from party to party en masse: Instead, Catholic votes seem fragmented, leading many to surmise that Catholics are not motivated by their religious beliefs when they enter the voting booth.

With all this in mind, CRISIS recently commissioned QEV Analytics, a prestigious Washington polling group, to analyze the available data for trends among Catholic voters.  What it found verifies what many politically active Catholics have long suspected: Stripping away inactive Catholics who retain the label as a cultural identification, the real swing voters are active Catholics.

This group is drawn from a variety of different demographic groups -- young, old, wealthy, poor, urban, rural, Western, Eastern, or in-between -- yet they display certain political characteristics and possess a distinctive political history.   They are the swing voters who drive elections in the Industrial Midwest, the ethnic Northeast, and populous Sunbelt states like California and Texas.  They are a must-win for any coalition.

And they are the most disaffected voters.  These Catholics are not solidly in either camp, though they are increasingly self-described conservatives.   How to attract these voters to policies that reflect Church teaching is the focus of the upcoming Phase II of the Catholic Voter Project." -- from the November 1998 issue of Crisis Magazine

Full Report


Phase II: The Catholic Vote in America 

Results of the Crisis Magazine National Survey of Catholics

INTRODUCTION

At a moment of extraordinary political opportunity, some conservatives are waving the white flag. Paul Weyrich for one — founder of the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress (CSFC), founder of National Empowerment Television (NET), conservative gadfly — he has put his despair in a letter to supporters: "...efforts to return some semblance of moral order to the nation through the political process have failed. If there really were a ‘moral majority’ in the country, Bill Clinton would have been driven from office." It isn’t the President’s exoneration in the Senate so much as his continuing high approval ratings from the American people in the face of incredible revelations which so disturbs Mr. Weyrich.

David Gelertner, Yale University professor and surviving victim of the Unabomber, is another. In his courageous book, Drawing Life, he surveys the damaged state of American society, and writes, "I have to confess that the only society I care deeply about in the end is my family and a few friends, and I am not sure whether each man cultivating his garden is not our only shot at saving the world."

While the temptations to recoil are great just now, conservatives must not turn their backs on politics. In part for the reasons of which Henry Hyde spoke on December 19, 1998 — the day the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach President Clinton. Mr. Hyde quoted Abraham Lincoln’s 1838 Lyceum Address, in which Lincoln argues that if one loves this country, then one must also love its Constitution, its laws and (I extrapolate) the political process embodied in that Constitution. Another reason not to give up on politics is provided by the Crisis Magazine nationwide survey of American Catholics.

Politics in America is being transformed. Like the painfully slow but inexorable movements of tectonic plates, profound migrations of voters are afoot, and these present to conservatives a rare historic opportunity — so long as we do not quit the field. Catholic voters are central to this drama. In its November, 1998, issue, Crisis Magazine published two articles which chronicled the migration of Catholic voters toward more conservative habits of voting. And in particular what Crisis spied was a dramatic divergence in political behavior between those Catholics who attend mass once a week or more, and those who do not. The evidence is that religiously active Catholics are at last aligning politically with born-again, evangelical Christians.

From 1960 to 1996, inactive Catholics have voted consistently just a bit more for Democratic presidential candidates than the country as a whole, but have adhered to the national ebb and flow in the fortunes of the Democratic Party’s nominees, and have never awarded a Democratic candidate with a smaller percentage of their votes than did the entire electorate.

Not so active Catholics. Beginning from a higher plateau in 1960 (they gave John Kennedy 87% versus 69% from inactive Catholics), mass-attending Catholics voted against McGovern in 1972, for Carter in 1976, against Carter in 1980, against Mondale in 1984, for Dukakis in 1988, against Clinton in 1992, and apparently against Clinton in 1996 — although the latter election was really too close to call statistically. Consider voting against George Bush in 1988 then voting for him in 1992: this is a pretty fair definition of a swing vote.

The other provocative trends which Crisis identified were:

  1. The decline in Democratic Party affiliation among religiously active Catholics, 1960-1996.

  2. The ideological divergence between active and inactive Catholics, with active Catholics becoming more likely to identify themselves as conservative, and inactive Catholics becoming more liberal.

  3. The decline, then stabilization of the portion of Catholics who are religiously active.

The question Crisis was not able to answer from its careful analysis of national exit polls and other extant survey data (such as the superb University of Michigan National Election Study biennial survey series) was why this migration was occurring. So a national survey of 1000 randomly selected Catholics was commissioned to find an answer — and to determine if these trends could be encouraged.

What emerges from this study (arguably the most comprehensive survey of Catholics on these topics) is that while Catholics still show up with all their kaleidoscopic variety of political attitudes, values, perceptions and behavior, the central tendency, the center of gravity, of Catholic political opinion has shifted. Replacing that old stereotypical "social justice" orientation of Catholics (and old loyalties based on ethnicity, economic status and urbanization) is a new, cosmopolitan "social renewal" orientation, which is leading active Catholics to abandon their traditional home in the Democratic Party. By properly understanding this new Catholic orientation, conservatives can make the migrating Catholics, and those on the verge of migrating, feel more comfortable in their new home.

Were the 2000 Presidential election being held today — it isn’t, of course, and much can change between now and November, 2000 — and were the candidates Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George Bush, Bush would win among all Catholics by 45 percent to 27 percent (with 29 percent undecided or not saying), an 18 point spread; among weekly mass attendees, Bush wins 49 percent to 24 percent, a 25 point spread.

Catholics are still thought to be part of the traditional Democratic base vote. Obviously 2000 is not shaping up that way: it is mathematically impossible for a Democratic Presidential nominee to be victorious while losing the Catholic vote by such a wide margin (that is, with Bush the younger getting 63% among Catholics with a preference at this point). One of the important previous contributions made by Crisis Magazine to the scholarship of the Catholic voter was to show the geographic centrality of the Catholic vote. A plurality of Catholic voters is found in the upper Midwest, a region which will be carried — must be carried — by whomever wins the presidency in 2000. In 1996, Clinton carried these states (Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Missouri, Kentucky), while nationwide receiving 54 percent of Catholic votes cast, versus 38 percent for Bob Dole and 8 percent for Ross Perot. According to our electoral vote modeling, had just 15 percent of the Catholic vote shifted to Dole — had he received 53 percent of the Catholic vote while everything else stayed the same — Dole would have been elected President. And Governor Bush is doing 10 points better than that mark. The question is, why?

Full Report


Phase III: The Catholic Vote in America 

HOW BIG IS YOUR TENT

"Can Religiously-active Catholics and non-Catholic Christian Conservatives Coexist under the Same Political Roof?"

 by Steven Wagner

With the November 1998 issue, Crisis Magazine launched its unprecedented analysis of the Catholic vote in America ("Mind of the Catholic Voter," by Robert Novak). The central question tackled by that research was whether political conservatives have any reasonable expectation of attracting a majority of Catholic votes at the polls. This question was provoked by the observation that Catholics seemed not to be treading the path of Christians - namely the born-again, fundamentalist, and evangelical Christians - into more conservative habits of voting.

But our careful analysis of exit polls and other historical survey data upon which Mr. Novak's cover article was based revealed that Catholics are indeed in the midst of a political migration. Crisis identified these trends:

1. The growing number of self-identified conservatives among active Catholics;

2. The exodus of all Catholics, but especially active Catholics, out of the Democratic Party;

3. The increasing propensity of active Catholics to vote Republican;

4. The increasing share of the electorate represented by active Catholics;

5. And - arguably of greatest long-term significance - a sharp divergence in the political behavior between religiously active and inactive Catholics.

On the other hand, Crisis also identified a reluctance among these migrating Catholics to call themselves Republican. Many Catholics remain suspicious of the Republican Party, principally because the GOP seems to them too materialistic and excessively confident in the justice of the market economy.

Having identified these trends , Crisis next asked, "what accounts for the political behavior of Catholic voters?" This musing led to the commissioning of the most comprehensive survey of Catholic political attitudes ever conducted in the United States, the results of which were reported in the June 1999 issue of Crisis ("The Heart of the Catholic Voter" by William McGurn). Through this survey, we discovered:

1. A very large majority of Catholics perceive the country to be a crisis of declining morality;

2. While a plurality of Catholics favor a more activist federal government (validating their pro-government stereotype), a large majority regard Washington to be exacerbating the moral crisis;

3. Nearly half of Catholic voters are today swing voters, and can be taken for granted by neither party.

But the central finding of this research is that a new political orientation has emerged among Catholics - particularly among mass-attending Catholics - to supplant the "social justice" political identity with which Catholics have long been associated. We call this new identity "social renewal" conservatism, and it is grounded in that widespread Catholic perception of a cultural and social crisis. The emergence of this "social renewal" orientation among active Catholics makes possible further electoral gains by the right sort of conservative candidates.

With this article, we close the circle. Having shown empirically that Catholics are a critical swing vote in the electorate today, the present question to be answered by Crisis is this: do conservative candidates, in appealing to Catholic voters, risk alienating non-Catholic Christian conservatives - who have, after all, fueled conservative and Republican gains over the past 20 years, making possible the GOP takeover of Congress in 1994? Is the political agenda of religiously-active Catholics compatible with the agenda of "the Christian Right?"

In brief, the answer is a qualified yes:

1. Catholics and non-Catholic Christian conservatives share the critique of moral decline in American society; both look for opportunities to arrest the decline.

2. Both are suspicious of the popular culture; indeed, while Catholics have long had a separatist impulse, non-Catholic Christians are being driven to their own separatism vis-à-vis the prevailing culture.

3. While Catholics reject anti-government rhetoric, non-Catholic conservatives reject the expansion of government. But there is a commonality in their desire for the federal government to cease inflicting harm on the nation's moral character.

4. Below the level of the macro question, "should government be bigger or smaller?", there is virtually no programmatic disagreement between mass-attending Catholics and religiously-active Christian conservatives. The one exception is opinion on gambling and lotteries.

5. Both religiously-active Catholics and Christian conservatives affirm absolute standards of morality and agree on what those standards are.

6. In sum, mass-attending Catholics and religiously-active Christian conservatives have arrived by very different routes at a very similar political place. Both hunger for the articulation of an agenda of social and cultural rejuvenation.

WHO IS A CHRISTIAN CONSERVATIVE?

"Christian conservative" means a conservative Christian who is politically-active, not a political conservative who is religiously-active. Social scientists fairly recently stumbled upon the political significance of the rise of religious conservatism. The National Election Study (NES) of the University of Michigan, upon which much the Crisis historical analysis is based, began asking respondents if they considered themselves to be "born-again" only in 1980 - by which time the Reverend Jerry Falwell had already had his most profound impact.

In the 1998 NES survey, 29 percent of American adults reported they were "born-again" (the actual question was: "would you call yourself a born-again Christian, that is, have you personally had a conversion experience related to Jesus Christ?"). Nearly as many - 22 percent - described their "type" of Christianity as either "fundamentalist" or "evangelical." Interestingly, there is little overlap: most "born-again" Christians are neither fundamentalist or evangelical, and only about half of fundamentalists and evangelicals embrace the label "born-again." When Christian political advocacy organizations seek to maximize the political weight of the constituencies they represent, they are heard to refer to "born-again, fundamentalist, and evangelical Christians," a phrase which encompasses 39 percent of the American public.

Some of these folks are Catholic. Fifteen percent of Catholics call themselves born-again (mass-attending and inactives in equal proportion). Twenty-three percent of active Catholics describe their Christianity as either fundamentalist or evangelical (24% are charismatic and 39% are "moderate to liberal;" few inactive Catholics use the fundamentalist or evangelical labels).

Many of these nominal Christian conservatives are not church-going: just over half (55%) of self-described born-again Christians attend religious services every week or almost every week; about the same proportion of fundamentalist and evangelical Christians attend church as frequently.

If our purpose is to draw meaningful distinctions between religiously-active Catholics (identified previously as the key swing constituency) and non-Catholic Christian conservatives, we need to be precise in our selection criteria, and consider only those born-again, evangelical, or fundamentalist Christians who are not Catholic and do attend church regularly.

There is another consideration: race. Twenty-one percent of self-identified born-again Christians are black, although fewer of either fundamentalists (11%) or evangelicals (8%) are. Religiously-active African-American Christians do not share the enthusiasm of their white born-again, fundamentalist or evangelical brethren for political conservatism. Since the question before us is whether an appeal to Catholics by political conservatives puts at risk their conservative Christian base, and since African-Americans are not part of that base, we will limit our comparisons with active Catholics to white Christian conservatives - as indeed Christian political advocacy organizations do when they want to emphasize the political homogeneity of their constituency or the debt owed them by the Republican Party.

White, religiously-active, non-Catholic born-again Christians represented 16 percent of the presidential vote in 1996, and 71 percent voted for Bob Dole (he received 41% nationally). White, religiously-active, non-Catholic fundamentalist or evangelical Christians were 13 percent of the 1996 electorate, and gave 72 percent of their vote to Bob Dole - no difference. Either of these definitions of Christian conservatives is workable for our purposes.

But these labels are highly subjective, and the comparison of results between surveys is made problematic by variations in question wording. Fortunately there is an alternative: the phenomenon of Christian conservatives supporting political conservatives is also denominational, and exposed by segmenting Protestants into members of traditional or "Reformation Era" Churches, versus members of Pietistic or Neo-Fundamentalist Churches (in this category are all Baptist denominations, Methodists, "Holiness" and "Pentecostal" Churches, Missouri Synod Lutherans, and numerous independent Christian Churches, among others). White, religiously-active, non-Catholic members of Pietistic or Neo-Fundamentalist (hereafter P/N-F for short) Churches were 16 percent of the 1996 electorate, and cast 68 percent of their votes for Bob Dole. So this denominational definition of Christian conservatism is just as politically discriminating, yet has the advantages of greater objectivity and of allowing for comparisons between surveys over time. Bear in mind, the short-hand "Christian conservative" means white, non-Catholic, religiously-active members of Pietistic and Neo-Fundamentalist Churches.

From 1960 (the earliest year for which we have detailed denominational and religious activism data) until 1972, active Catholics apparently contributed more voters in presidential elections than did the white, religiously-active Pietistic/Neo-Fundamentalist Christians. From 1976 to 1984, these two groups were at parity. From 1988 until 1996, there were more P/N-F Christian voters than active Catholics, and their share of the electorate was growing election to election. But after the nadir of 1988, active Catholics also began to rebound as a percentage of voter turnout, while during the same period, "traditional" Protestant voters declined precipitously as a share of the total vote.

From 1960 to 1996, with the exception of the 1964 Johnson landslide, P/N-F Christians have always given a majority of their votes to the GOP presidential candidate. Active Catholics rarely do; only in 1972 (Nixon), 1980 (Reagan), and 1984 (Reagan again). But in 1992 (Bush) and 1996 (Dole), the GOP presidential candidate did better among active Catholics than among all voters - a startling development which is the most significant evidence of convergence between these two religiously-active constituencies.

Other convergences are apparent. In 1972, the first year in which the National Election Study asked respondents their ideology, 55 percent of active, white P/N-F Christians identified themselves as ideological conservatives, versus 36 percent of active Catholics. Last year, these figures were 55 percent self-identified conservative among Christian Conservatives, and 50 percent among active Catholics. Clearly an ideological convergence is underway.

In party affiliation , the convergence is less clear, notwithstanding a common migration out of the Democratic Party. In 1960, 2-of-3 active Catholics called themselves Democrats (66%). That same year, 47 percent of active, white, P/N-F Christians were Democrats. Last year, 37 percent of active Catholics were still Democrat (down 29%), as were 23 percent of the active, white Christian Conservatives (down 24%). Both groups have migrated out of the Democratic Party, but toward different places: Republicans are still fairly rare among active Catholics (28%), but a plurality (42%) of Christian Conservatives are in the GOP.

THE POLITICAL IDENTITIES OF ACTIVE CATHOLICS, CHRISTIAN CONSERVATIVES

To answer the question, "can active Catholics and Christian Conservatives peacefully coexist in the same political space?" I have examined hundreds of survey questions. Of particular value were the 1998 installment of the NES, and two surveys conducted by the Washington Post/the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard University on American values. We find in this review some interesting if predictable theological differences. For example, regarding Biblical authority, 62 percent of active, white P/N-F Christians consider the Bible to be "the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word." On the other hand, a majority of active Catholics (67%) would say that "the Bible is the word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally, word for word." Consequently, perhaps, 8 percent of active Catholics read the Bible daily, versus 27 percent of Christian Conservatives. Christian Conservatives - those who attend Church four or more times in a typical month - are also more religiously active in other ways: 39 percent go to church service more than once per week, but only of 11 percent of weekly mass attendee Catholics go to more than one mass per week.

Do such theological differences imply political incompatibility? Yes, says Robert Bellah, professor emeritus of sociology at UC Berkley. Writing in the July 31 issue of America, ("Religion and the Shape of the National Culture"), he argues that our nation suffers from a cultural code which is dominated by Protestantism and is therefore radically individualistic. What's more, he says, "The dominance of Protestantism … [in] the American cultural code is responsible for many of our present difficulties" (which derive from this individualism - and most Catholics would intuitively embrace this criticism of individualism). While Dr. Bellah's call for an infusion of "Catholic imagination" into the American cultural code may be gratifying (Dr. Bellah is a Presbyterian convert to Episcopalianism), it is really profoundly unfair to non-Catholic Christian conservatives.

It is as if Dr. Bellah wants to impede political collaboration between Catholics and Christian conservatives (which another writer for America, Reverend Andrew Greeley, seeks to do explicitly). But the Pietistic/Neo-Fundamentalist Christians are not the Protestants who wrote America's cultural code. The Christian conservatives who are now political conservatives are every bit as alienated from the popular culture as are mass-attending Catholics. The cultural code is in the hands of the non-religious.

This charge of "radical individualism" leveled at Protestants - especially Christian conservatives - derives from their "near exclusive focus on the relationship between Jesus and the individual, where accepting Jesus Christ as one's personal lord and savior becomes almost the whole of piety" (this is Bellah's characterization). And while this observation may provide a meaningful theological distinction between Catholics and Protestants, it is politically misleading. Understand that individualism in a politically-relevant sense means regarding the individual to be the fundamental social unit, and elevating personal freedom to preeminence among the political virtues.

Given this definition, it is simply untrue that non-Catholic Christian conservatives are politically individualistic. Are church-attending Protestants less devoted to their spouses and children than Catholics? No. Are they l likely to join PTO's or service clubs? Less active in their churches, less charitable than are mass-attending Catholics? No. Are they more susceptible than Catholics to fantasies about self-sufficiency in this world? No indeed: by these measures, Christian conservatives are every bit as socially-engaged as active Catholics, every bit as aware of our interdependence and reciprocal responsibilities.

Among Catholics, the Crisis survey tested the concept of individualism by asking whether happiness is more likely to accrue to persons who are responsible for the well-being of others, or who are free to do whatever they want. Catholics selected the burden of responsibility by 2-to-1 (61% to 29%), and religiously-active Catholics by 3-to-1. We do not have results to this question for non-Catholic Christian conservatives, but my guess is the results would not be much different.

An indicative question from the 1996 NES survey posed these options: is it "more important to be a cooperative person who works well with others," or is it "more important to be a self-reliant person able to take care of oneself." More active Catholics selected the former, anti-individualist response (64%) than did Christian Conservatives (59%), but the larger point is a majority of both were in agreement. Even more striking, when presented with these propositions, "a person should always be concerned about the well-being of others," and "it is important me personally to help others who are less fortunate," virtually every Christian Conservative agreed. And let's not mistake social consciousness for a diminution of individual responsibility: 3/4ths of active Catholics (74%) and 85 percent of Christian Conservatives agree that "people should take responsibility for their own lives and economic well-being and not expect other people to help." The embrace of individual responsibility coexists with the rejection of individualism evidently for both Catholics and Christian conservatives.

Were it true that the American cultural code is dominated by Protestantism, would not then Christian Conservatives be comfortable with this culture so reflective of their values? There is no evidence of satisfaction among our Christian conservatives; to the contrary, active Catholics and Christian conservatives are united in their abhorrence of what American culture has become - indeed, Christian conservatives even more so than Catholics - precisely because both have lost their influence over the American cultural code.

For example, concerning the state of our national "values and moral beliefs," 78 percent of active Catholics and 89 percent of active, white P/N-F Christians agree the country is "on the wrong track" (consistent with the Crisis finding that 75% of Catholics say there is a crisis of declining individual morality in the country today). Christian Conservatives are likely to identify the most important problem facing the country today as "moral decay," while Catholics are more likely to identify one of the various symptoms of moral decline (crime, drugs, deteriorating education quality, and so forth). Both constituencies are sympathetic to a social renewal agenda.

Most Important Problem Issue Named Active Catholics Christian Conservatives Education 11 8 Unemployment 7 3 Poverty 7 9 Crime 7 7 Moral decay 6 18 Health 5 2 Illegal drugs 4 3

James MacGregor Burns writes in Leadership (one of two books President Carter kept on his Oval Office desk, to no apparent avail), "the essence of leadership in any polity is … [inter alia] the uncovering and exploiting of contradictions among values and between value and practice …." If values conflicts present an opportunity for leadership, then there is pretty of room for leadership among Catholics, for we exhibit a gaping contradiction in our political values. We are historically suspicious of secular authority, and this suspicion compelled us to build schools and hospitals and orphanages and a network of other social services apart from the state. As Charles Morris observes in American Catholic, the Church was "in America but decisively not of it." And yet despite these separatist inclinations, Catholics historically have also been favorably disposed toward activist government, and optimistic about the possibilities for those same secular authorities to be helpful.

Non-Catholic Christian conservatives too are afflicted with a values conflict, going rather in the opposite direction. While they have historically enjoyed a position of dominance of the "American cultural code," they have of late become hugely suspicious of the prevailing culture, and are being driven to they own separatism. Witness the proliferation of Christian schools and phenomenon of home-schooling; they too have become suspicious of secular authorities.

The most enduring political stereotype regarding the difference between Catholics and Christian conservatives is that Catholics like big government and Christian conservatives do not. There is some support for this generalization in the survey data. In a 1996 survey, respondents were offered two propositions, one "the less government the better;" the second, "there are more things government should be doing." Active Catholics narrowly opted for the latter (54% to 45%) - reacting against, I suspect, to the rhetoric of "the less government the better" - while Christian conservatives opted decisively for the former (68% to 32%). Another question that year counterpoised, "we need a strong government to handle today's complex economic problems" against "the free market can handle these problems without government being involved." This time it was the active Catholics' turn for greater decisiveness, opting by two-to-one for the former, while Christian conservatives split evenly (51% to 49%). Results such as these sustain the characterization of Catholics as sympathetic to government. This is why Crisis advises not to use blanket anti-government rhetoric within ear-shot of Catholic voters.

This is in the nature of a general statement regarding political principles. But at this particular political moment, active Catholics and Christian conservatives share a disposition toward cutting back on perceived excesses of government. When asked, "would you favor a smaller government with fewer services or a larger government with many services, majorities of both active Catholics (63%) and Christian conservatives (74%) contend they favor smaller government. Separately, active Catholics and Christian conservatives also agree government has gone too far in regulating business and interfering with the functioning of the free enterprise system.

Are Christian conservatives so hungry for anti-government rhetorical red meat that this presents political conservatives with an untenable choice? I don't think so: Catholics eschew anti-government rhetoric; Christian conservatives eschew more government. But there is a common ground here: namely, agreement that we need to end the harm which the federal government is inflicting on the country. Catholics see this: by 3-to-1, all Catholics (active and inactive) say the federal government is doing more to harm the moral climate than to help.

Over the past 30 or so years, the Catholic affection for government has evolved. In 1960, asked if "the government in Washington ought to see to it that everybody who wants to work can find a job," 63 percent of active Catholics strongly agreed (versus 29% of Christian conservatives). Last year, a similar survey question on whether Washington should "see to it that every person has a job and a good standard of living" (versus letting each person get ahead on their own) found 31 percent of active Catholics (and 27% of Christian conservatives) leaning in favor. Some of the mitigation of enthusiasm can be attributed to the loss of trust in government. In 1960, 70 percent said they could trust government to do the right thing most of the time. By 1998, 55 percent said government could be trusted only some of the time (the most negative available response).

A second factor is Catholic social ascendancy. Active Catholics are better educated than any other religious cohort in the 1998 NES survey, either religiously-active or inactive. They have higher household incomes, and they are more likely to own stock (59% versus 40% of Christian conservatives). They are as a group less economically vulnerable.

The principle of human equality is central to the American Catholic political identity. Consequently, when the federal government was perceived to be advancing affirmative action in the form of quotas and hiring preferences, Catholics were offended - but equally so were Christian conservatives. The 1998 NES survey presented two sides of the argument: "some people say that because of past discrimination, blacks should be given preference in hiring and promotion. Others say that such preference in hiring and promotion of blacks is wrong because it gives blacks advantages they haven't earned." Eighty-five percent (85%) of active Catholics and 89 percent of Christian conservatives sided with the second statement.

There were always limits to Catholic affection for government. While a majority of active Catholics think government has a responsibility to try to do away with poverty (73%, and 63% of Christian conservatives agree), active Catholics also decisively reject the narrowing of the income gap between rich and poor (read income redistribution) as a legitimate function of government. This is an issue with some political currency as we assess the impact of welfare reform (which a majority of the Catholic laity supports). The more important point is that the current political debate has shifted, away from issues of the quantity of government to issues of the quality of government performance.

Below the level of such macro questions as "is government a good thing or not?" there is virtually no programmatic disagreement between active Catholics and Christian conservatives. Christian conservatives consistently evidence more homogeneity of opinion (because they are a more homogenous group), but of the hundreds of questions I examined, the only policy disagreement between active Catholics and Christian conservatives I found is over the proliferation of casino gambling and lotteries: Catholics are for them, Christian conservatives are against them. On every other question, the intensity of opinion may differ, but never the direction of the response. Yet there are many, many issues on which the religiously-active (Catholics and Christian conservatives included) disagree with the religiously-inactive - indeed, on virtually any issue with moral content.

There is evidence of a greater moral certainty or at least of greater moral homogeneity among Christian conservatives on these issues with moral content. Consider two examples: abortion and homosexuality. Ninety percent (90%) of religiously-active, white, born-again Christians say that abortion is morally unacceptable (this from a survey which did not ask for religious denomination). Eighty-four percent (84%) of active Catholics concur (from the Crisis survey). But 25 percent of active Catholics think that abortion should be available to a woman for any reason versus 17 percent of Christian conservatives. It is, therefore, easier to find active Catholics than Christian conservatives who regard abortion to be morally unacceptable, but are reticent to impose this judgment on others with the force of law.

Similarly, majorities of both active Catholics and Christian conservatives regard homosexual acts to be is morally unacceptable, but there is a gap: 62 percent of active Catholics versus 86 percent of religiously-active, white, born-again Christians hold this view. Moreover, half of Christian conservatives (54%) believe that homosexuality is morally unacceptable AND should not be tolerated; only 26 percent of active Catholics concur. Large majorities of both active Catholics (91%) and Christian conservatives (75%) believe homosexuals should not be subject to employment discrimination, and majorities of both groups recommend that the government not get involved with either promoting nor discouraging homosexuality. But then a majority of Christian conservatives (65%) opine that homosexual "relations" should be illegal. Homosexuality would be a non-issue for active Catholics were it not for the radical agenda of homosexual advocates to legalizing gay marriage and gay adoption.

These findings bring to mind an article Antonin Scalia, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, wrote for the Wall Street Journal naming his choice for the most significant legal development in the past 1000 years. "My selection of democratic self-government as the development of the millennium assumes - perhaps optimistically - …what our Framers would have called a liberal disposition on the part of the people: a reluctance to impose their views by law in the face of significant opposition, a reticence to require others to love all that they love and to hate all that they hate," he wrote. "The point was put well by the great Learned Hand, in his comments to a group of newly naturalized Americans: 'The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias.'" This is a very apt description of the kind of reticence which is evident among many active Catholics, yet is rarer among Christian conservatives. Is it coincidental that Scalia, a Catholic, uses these words?

Despite suspicions of political liberals that sinister political organizing is occurring behind closed doors of the evangelical churches, Catholics are as likely to have received campaign information at their place of worship (18% of active Catholics versus 16% of Christian conservatives). Few of either group received advice on voting from their clergy (5% percent of active Catholics versus 2% of Christian conservatives). And Catholics were as likely as Christian conservatives to have been contacted by a religious or moral advocacy group during the election (16% versus 15%). These results belie the image of the Pietistic/Neo-Fundamentalist Churches as hot-beds of political activism.

The conclusion of this survey of opinion research findings is that active Catholics and Christian conservatives have, by very different routes, arrived at a very similar place, politically. This is not to say that there are no differences: effective political rhetoric will have different tones, different language, different emphases for Catholic and non-Catholic audiences. The sort of "social renewal" conservatism to which Catholics will be most sympathetic is of a particular sort - deriving from a recognition that the moral ecology of a community bears substantially on the ability of individuals to achieve their desired quality of life - that will not appeal to all conservatives. But the current political schisms which exist between active Catholics and Christian conservatives are trivial compared to the political schisms between the religiously-active and the religiously-inactive voters.

This conclusion is particular to the current political moment. At another time, under different political circumstances, active Catholics and non-Catholic Christian conservatives might find themselves on opposite sides of the barricades. But at this political moment, these two groups are united by a common diagnosis of the social crisis and a common desire for an agenda of social and cultural reconstruction. We stand together just now at the side of the road with thumbs out, waiting for a political leadership to come along which will lead us forward.

 

 

                       

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