Exit polling tells us that in every presidential election since 1972, the candidate who has won Catholics has won the popular vote as well. To the unsophisticated, this statistic might suggest that the Catholic vote is tremendously important. But the self-consciously savvy often invoke it as evidence that “the Catholic vote” doesn’t really exist at all – that self-identified Catholics are as diverse and divided as the country as a whole, and thus any campaign that wins over swing voters in general will inevitably win over Catholic swing voters as well.
The truth lies somewhere in between. The Catholic vote does look a lot like the American vote in microcosm, encompassing liberals and conservatives, the lukewarm and the devout, the partisan and the uncommitted and everything in between. But as National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru points out, there is evidence that Catholic swing voters are slightly more up for grabs than the average independent. Ponnuru notes that George W. Bush “improved his share of Catholic voters between 2000 and 2004 more than he did his overall share; and the Republican share of the Catholic vote fell a bit more between 2004 and 2008 than did the Republican share of the overall vote.”
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