Graph: Are Catholics in Congress left, right or center?

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This graphic is not offered for republication.

This graphic is not offered for republication.

Pope Francis praised and prodded members of both parties in Congress during his address yesterday. And for good reason: Catholic social teaching doesn’t fit neatly into America’s two-party system. Republicans promote some parts of the papal agenda; Democrats support others.

Catholics serving in Congress reflect this uneasy division. Catholics are found in both parties and are spread across the political spectrum.

This graphic is not offered for republication.

This graphic is not offered for republication.

Keith T. Poole, Howard Rosenthal, and Christopher Hare over at the VoteView Blog map members of Congress based on their voting history. Each Representative is placed on a scale along the x-axis from -1 to 1 based solely on their voting history. This is often interpreted as being liberal/left to conservative/right, particularly on economic issues. Legislators are also placed on a second dimension, which allows for some more differentiation. This often reflects regional differences that aren’t captured by the general left-right dimension.


READ How 150,000 people join Catholic Church each year


In the first graph, I show where current U.S. Senators are on the VoteView map. Democrats are the clump on the left; Republicans are on the right. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is the furthest left. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) are the furthest to the right.

This graphic is not offered for republication.

This graphic is not offered for republication.

In the middle of the graph are the moderates. Among Democrats, this includes Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN). Republican moderates are Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

What else do these five Senators have in common? They’re Catholic.

As I show in the second graph, Catholics are spread out evenly in both parties. The median Catholic in each party is about the same as the median non-Catholic.

But Catholics also appear to be less extreme. They make up the core of the moderates. They do not take up the most extreme positions in either party.

There isn’t one Catholic voting bloc in Congress. As a group Catholics in Congress, like the Pope, cover a wide range of views that aren’t brought together well by either party.


READ U.S. Catholicism graph shows slow growth over past century, stable geography


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  • Mike

    I was wondering these exact statistics after hearing that Pope Francis’ talk had covered both sides of the isle. I was expecting more Catholic senators to be more conservative, if for no other reason than because of the Catholic view of abortion. Any thoughts on what other topics counteract this? I would think opposition to abortion would be a more pressing matter than the other liberal topics like climate change.