This week was a momentous time for the nation as the midterm elections moved upon Americans, allowing voters to change the political system for the first time since the 2016 election. As an 18-year-old, I felt obligated to go out for my first time and let my voice be heard. Along with the religiously unaffiliated and other religious groups, Catholics made their presence known in the election. On Wednesday, the class attended the panel “Behind the Tweets” to unpack the results from the election.
My first impression regarding the Catholic vote is that it seemed to stay the same, whereas Catholics were divided by major parties and key issues. Professor Michael Murphy began the roundtable discussion by stating that Catholics are a swing vote. In some cases, such as the 2016 election, Catholics align with the Republican Party. In this year’s midterms, Catholics swung Democratically, however, the margin was very slight as Figure 1 shows that 49 percent of Catholics voted Republican. Dr. Murphy elaborated that Catholics are transient voters because one cannot find salvation in a singular political party. In recent years, it seems like Americans seek religiosity from politics. In his article in The Catholic World Report, Dr. Samuel Gregg emphasizes the need to desacralize politics as to prevent party members from demonizing each other. Moreover, the first week of class, we talked about the rise of religious nones and the deinstitutionalizations of younger generations. The consequence of less trust in historical institutions such as unions or religions means that people may idolize politics as a religion.
Another factor to consider regarding the role of Catholics in the midterms is the implication of the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh is one of the five Catholics on the bench, but his controversial confirmation earlier this fall resulted in serious consequences for certain state elections. Most experts predicted that the Kavanaugh confirmation would motivate widespread support for Democrats. In a pre-midterm poll from Politico, Democrats seemed energized by the fight against Kavanaugh as 36 percent of voters would vote against Senators who confirmed him. In contrast, Professor O’Brien noted exit polls in which voters say they voted against Democratic candidates, such as North Dakota’s incumbent Heidi Heitkamp, to stand in solidarity with Brett Kavanaugh. Catholic Vote is one of the largest Political Action Committees for conservative Catholics. The site’s campaign ‘Catholics for Kavanaugh’ offered supporters to sign a petition that reads:
The confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh is for me a litmus test. Every Catholic voter I know will be watching this process closely. Scrutiny of Judge Kavanaugh’s Catholic faith will not be tolerated. Together with millions of my fellow Catholics, I urge you to vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh this fall, prior to the November elections.
FedUp, another PAC, released a video to garner support for the Republicans against the Democratic politicians who led efforts against Kavanaugh. Essentially, Catholic-Republican PACs used Brett Kavanaugh as a device to reawaken the passion and rage from the trial. Evidently, the narrative was somewhat effective in holding a Republican majority in the Senate, according to O’Brien.
The Latino vote is a significant source of the Catholic vote that should be carefully considered amidst the Trump administration’s immigration policies. An article from the Catholic news outlet The Crux illustrates how the 2018 midterms show two distinct Catholic churches, one being white and affluent and the other being Hispanic and poor. John Allen Jr., the editor for the online magazine, explains how the overall Catholic vote increased 2 percentage points since four years ago, likely because of a higher turnout among Latinos. Nonetheless, voting data suggests a growing gap between white Catholics leaning Republican and Catholic minorities voting Democratic.
At the roundtable, there was a discussion of whether or not the midterms were influenced by President Trump’s anti-immigrant language leading up to the election. Instilling fear and fervor into his base using the caravan and challenging birth-right citizenship, it begs the question of whether not Latinos were influenced by the demeaning dialogue. Furthermore, Latinos made up 11 percent of the electorate, and a majority of 63 percent voted Democratic. The Trump administration has revitalized their political engagement, as Figure 3 proves an increase in engagement and enthusiasm since 2016. Additionally, the surge in the Latino vote may be critical to the 2020 election, as DallasNews claims that Hispanic voters could turn the state blue if they can reorganize after Beto O’Rourke’s loss. Despite Ted Cruz’s reelection, Texan Latinos helped to elect the state’s first two Latinas into the House. Prospectively, I feel that Democratic Latino-Catholics have great potential to diversify and change the political landscape in response to xenophobic immigration policies.
For Catholics, the abortion agenda has been consistently prominent on Election Day since Roe v Wade. Professor Stephen Millies writes in the introduction to his book that “the US Catholic Bishops will remain important figures in the story of the road that leads from Roe to the election of Donald Trump”(xviii). Earlier this semester, we read about how American bishops are quick to criticize Trump policies but will not directly advise voters. According to the article, one reason for the silence is because conservative bishops and liberal bishops cannot agree on debates like abortion and gay marriage. As my last post mentions, some congregations and Bishops reject the Vatican’s more progressive leadership under Pope Francis. At the panel, Dr. O’Brien predicted that a Catholic majority Supreme Court would likely not result in appealing Roe. Rather, the Court would allow for restrictions and state jurisdiction on access to abortion. Indeed, in the midterms, Oregon, West Virginia, and Alabama all passed laws limiting funding for abortion. In an article for the Washington Post, Peter Steinfels voices that Democrats like him who are anti-abortion can identify as a liberal. Steinfels comments, “those who oppose abortion have their own moral reasons for looking beyond near-term abortion right advocates’ victories and throwing themselves into a blue wave.” Democratic Catholics can be pro-life, but they must make a tradeoff by supporting pro-choice politicians.
Catholics were not necessarily instrumental this year in electing a Democratic House majority and maintaining a Republican Senate majority. Throughout the semester, I have recognized that the role of Catholics in modern politics reflects how the entire nation is divided by party and ideology, thus the Catholic vote is not unique from the electorate. Historically, Catholics wielded power from the election of other Catholics, such as Mayor Daley in Chicago or President Kennedy. I think that under the right circumstances, the Latino Catholics can emulate Irish-Catholic elections in 2020 to gain leverage over anti-immigration laws and become accepted in American life.
Figure 1: Geiger, Abigail. “How Religious Groups Voted in the Midterm Elections.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center.
Figures 2 and 3: Kent, David. “Hispanic Voters More Engaged in 2018 than in Previous Midterms.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 2 Nov. 2018.