Faith and politics do mix, and America’s 70 million Catholics are among the most important swing voters in the 2008 presidential election. The Church’s official views, like those of American Catholics, are impossible to characterize as simply liberal or conservative, and each party is striving to maximize its appeal to Catholic voters in this tight election. Can the Democrats overcome the so-called “God gap” by appealing to Catholics on issues of faith, social justice and war? Can the Republicans continue their successful appeal to conservative Catholics on issues of sexuality, marriage and abortion? Join us for a lively panel discussion with experts on Catholics and American politics.
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.
The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats are Closing the God Gap. Scribner, 2008.
Read Chapter 1 from The Party Faithful
“How Would Jesus Vote?” Op-Ed in the Washington Post 2.24.08
“The Dems’ Delicate Dance on Faith.” Time 4.15.08
“Jeremiah Wright Goes to War.” Time 4.28.08
“Why Obama Seized the Faith-based Mantle.” USAToday.com 7.28.08
Michael Sean Winters
“Anti-Gay Auto-Da-Fé.” slate.com 9.28.05
“Wholly Different Angles on the World.” The Washington Post, 3.30.08
Related Readings: Religion and Elections
One Electorate Under God?: A Dialogue on Religion and American Politics (Pew Forum Dialogues on Religion & Public Life) by E.J. Dionne.
Religion Returns to the Public Square: Faith and Policy in America (Woodrow Wilson Center Press). Edited by Hugh Heclo and Wilfred M. McClay.
"A Fight Among Catholics Over Which Party Best Reflects Church Teachings" David D. Kirkpatrick. New York Times, 10.4.09
“Young Evangelical Christians in the 2008 Election,” a survey conducted by Greenland Quinlan Rosner Research.
A summary of the findings:
“A recent survey conducted for Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner finds that young white evangelical Christians are less supportive of John McCain for president than their older counterparts. Although McCain maintains a solid winning margin among white evangelical Christians on the ballot, white evangelicals ages 18-29 are less supportive of his candidacy and express less favorable impressions of McCain than older white evangelical Christians.”
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life: “Religion and Election 08.” This website provides biographies focused on religion of the candidates and their running mates; public opinion polls and analysis; and current events regarding the role of religion in this year’s presidential election. Also useful and interesting is the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. Based on interviews with more than 35,000 American adults, the Pew survey examines Americans’ approaches to and understandings of religion, and the connection between those perceptions and their social and political positions. On the survey’s homepage are related materials, interactive tools and other supplementary information to the survey.