Election Mark Silk: Spiritual Politics Opinion Politics

Whither white Catholics?

(RNS) Most ethno-religious groups in America have strong partisan preferences.

White evangelicals and Mormons are rock-ribbed Republicans. Latino Catholics and Jews are solid Democrats.

Once upon a time, white Catholics were solid Democrats too. Now they’re divided, tilting toward the GOP but subject to change. This year, they’ve bounced around remarkably in their presidential preferences, from supporting Donald Trump by as many as 36 points to supporting Hillary Clinton by as many as six.

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Why isn’t partisanship built into white Catholic identity as much as it is into the other groups?

As a rule, swing voters are those whose policy preferences pull them in opposite directions. Consider this enumeration of issues from a new letter signed by Catholic women leaders:

Our faith calls us to affirm the sacred dignity of all life. This is why our Church defends life in the womb, the undocumented immigrant and the inmate on death row. As Pope Francis reminds us, we must also say no to an “economy of exclusion and inequality” that “kills,” and act to address environmental devastation that is disproportionately hurting the poor.

Though you’d never know it from listening to churchmen like Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia or the staff of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic social teaching pushes white Catholics more towards the Democrats than it does towards the Republicans.


READ: Archbishop Chaput welcomes ‘smaller church’ of holier Catholics


Not that there’s a shortage of Trump-supporting white Catholics — the 21st century version of Reagan Democrats.

But other than single-issue abortion opponents, white Catholics as Catholics have little reason to vote for an anti-immigrant, climate change-denying plutocrat like Donald Trump.

Come November 9, a majority of them will, I predict, turn out to have cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton.

About the author

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service

6 Comments

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  • “Why isn’t partisanship built into white Catholic identity as much as it is into the other groups?”

    Because white Catholic identity is largely mythical. They are hardly much of a coherent bloc except for the purposes of such wide sweeping generalized polls. White Catholic splits ethnically and historically as well. There are many differences between American Catholic Irish, Italian Polish, Ukrainian, Central European…. histories and experiences.

    Out of curiosity, does one consider Portuguese and Spanish to be White or Hispanic under these groupings?

  • White Catholics voted solidly Republican in 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012. (Pew Research Center Religion & Public Life.) White Catholics “have bounced around remarkably” in 2016 just like the US electorate in general. Yet every 2016 poll (PRRI and Pew) shows that support for Trump among white Catholics exceeds that of all registered voters.

  • Except for some old neighborhoods in the North, in the rest of the US the now third, fourth and fifth generation of European immigrants have erased the old ethnic divides. “Hispanic” is a gov’t mislabeling dating from the 1970s. Regardless of language or race, those living in the US with a heritage from south of our border are “Latinos.” (In the rest of the world, they’re “Latin Americans.”)

  • Guess I’m an odd White Catholic, indeed a retired Pastoral Associate. But Trump reminds me too much of early Hitler. His talk of deporting millions of Latinos and Muslims surely involves collecting them, concentrating them in ‘camps’ until they are ready to be ‘deported’ … it’s more efficient than scrambling around to push them out one by one … and when he gets tired of feeding all these prisoners he might just move into Hitler’s shoes with a final solution …

  • Portugese are not Hispanic because they don’t speak Spanish. Spaniards are Hispanic because they do. Spaniards and Portugese are white/Caucasian. Both would be considered Latino.

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