The Catholic Church in America – like all other churches and religious institutions – is barred by law from endorsing a political candidate, but a quick innocuous tweet on Wednesday morning serves as a reminder that church officials have at their disposal the might of the church to lead the faithful to the polls.
On Wednesday morning, the Harrisburg Diocese tweeted: “It can be quite difficult to find candidates who align with our consciences on all of the key moral issues.”
Diocese spokesman Joe Aponick stressed the tweet, which includes a link to a political resources page that includes links to a page laying out the positions of presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, was not an endorsement.
“The purpose was to draw attention to our election voter resources page where we are trying to educate Catholic voters on how the church approaches elections,” Aponick said. “First and foremost we encourage people to vote. They have a moral obligation to vote, then the Catholic Church teaches that they need to formally form their consicuosness part of. That is researching what the candidates are about and comparing that to church teachings.”
Aponick stressed that the church simply does the research on candidates – and asks its flock to base their votes on the teachings of the church.
“The church is neither Republican nor Democrat, neither right nor left,” he said. “If you are looking through from a Catholic perspective to find somebody who matches all things, it can be difficult. Things seem rather polarized now a days.”
Indeed, the Catholic vote – much like the evangelical vote – is not to be underestimated.
In 2012, one-quarter of all voters were Catholics, including 18 percent who were white Catholics. In 2000, white Catholics made up 21 percent of the electorate; 20 percent of voters in 2004 and 19 percent of the electorate in 2008.
It can be quite difficult to find candidates who align with our consciences on all of the key moral issues. This… https://t.co/zpK8DNolRU
— Dio of Harrisburg (@HBGDiocese) October 19, 2016
“Sometimes the definition of Catholic voters depends on who is defining Catholic,” Aponick said. “There are cultural Catholics, folks who were born and baptized but haven’t seen a church for a long time.”
The Catholic vote in this country, in fact, has evolved dramatically since 1960 when electorally the Catholic vote went solidly to John F. Kennedy, himself a Catholic and is these days a markedly split religious demographic. Catholics have played a markedly pivotal role since that time, casting in more recent elections a swing vote that has tipped the scales for either the Democrat or Republican nominee.
While Catholics on average have voted for Democratic candidates for president or for the House of Representatives 50 percent of the time over the last seven national elections, in the 2012 election in which Democrat Barack Obama narrowly defeated Republican Mitt Romney, traditionally Republican groups such as white evangelicals and weekly churchgoers strongly backed Romney, while traditionally Democratic groups such as black Protestants, Hispanic Catholics, Jews and the religiously unaffiliated backed Obama by large margins.
Does Donald Trump have a problem with Catholic voters?
According to the Pew Research Center, Catholics and white mainline Protestants were more evenly divided. Among white mainline Protestants in the exit poll, 54 percent voted for Romney, while 44 percent supported Obama.
White Catholics, by contrast, swung strongly in the Republican direction in 2008. Nearly six-in-10 white Catholics (59 percent) voted for Romney, up from 52 percent who voted for McCain in 2008. Three-quarters of Hispanic Catholics voted for Obama, and Catholics as a whole were evenly divided in 2012 (50 percent voted for Obama, while 48 percent backed Romney).
In the same elections, according to exit poll data, Protestant Christians chose Democratic candidates 41 percent of the time. All other demographics by religious affiliation leaned strongly Democrat, including Jewish voters (73 percent), those of other faith traditions (71 percent) and those with no religious affiliation (70 percent).
GOP nominee Trump, a few weeks ago led Clinton among white Catholics by 56-31 percent, according to a PRRI/Atlantic survey.
In the wake of the fallout of the leaked “Access Hollywood” tape, however, Trump’s support among white Catholics has plummeted. Clinton has taken a 46-42 lead among white Catholics in a poll released Oct. 9, a 15-point swing in one week.
Conservative Catholics have taken issue with Clinton’s stance on abortion – as well as that of her running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine, a Catholic and an abortion rights advocate. However, a recent Gallup poll, which breaks down voter perspective along issue lines, finds that on the whole, Catholics, whether liberal or conservative, are not single-issue abortion voters.