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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Catholics and the 2008 Election

As the presidential campaign season raced towards election day, the Boisi Center hosted a panel on October 9 about the important role Catholic voters and the Catholic Church were sure to play. Two experts on Catholics and American politics, Amy Sullivan and Michael Sean Winters, joined our own Alan Wolfe for a lively discussion. Sullivan is a national correspondent for TIME and author of The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats are Closing the God Gap; Winters is a contributor to prominent Catholic magazines America and The Catholic World, and author of Left at the Altar: How the Democrats Lost the Catholics and How the Catholics Can Save the Democrats.

Sullivan began by charting the evolution of the relationship between Catholics and Democrats since the early part of the twentieth century. During the New Deal era, Catholics and liberals had a strong bond as they sought to promote economic equality in the United States. Abortion was the singular issue that came to divide the two groups, in part because liberals underestimated the passion with which Catholics opposed abortion. Winters placed blame for this separation between liberals and Catholics on President John F. Kennedy, whose public declarations of a separation between his religious beliefs and his politics caused Democratic politicians to develop an “aversion to enunciating a moral vision of the country.”
Sullivan and Winters commented upon several significant transformations in the electorate and political landscape in 2008. Among their observations were that lay Catholic groups are now in a position to push back against conservative leadership, that Catholic Democratic politicians are reimagining the way they talk about faith and that divisive social issues were likely to take a back seat to the economy as the central motivating force in the election.

Also, check out Michael Sean Winters' Recap of the event!