First of all, I hear that when you meet as a church there are divisions among you, and to a degree I believe it – 1 Corinthians 11: 18
The 2018 Mid-term election was one of the most important in recent American history. The “Blue Wave” that many people were anticipating materialized in some way through the Democrat’s taking of the House. The Republicans were able to continue their hold of the Senate. This political shift has the chance of blocking Donald Trump’s legislation from making its way into policy. What were American Catholic’s role in this political moment? According to Pew, Catholics voted almost 50/50 for Republicans and Democrats. This differs from other religious groups such as Evangelicals who voted predominately Republican or Jews who chose Democrats.
From the chart, one can see that this is a relatively new phenomena. In 2014, the Catholic vote was skewed Republican. Why has this changed in the last few years? I believe that there are two possible factors that has lead to Catholic polarization. One was the emergence of Pope Francis. Before Pope Francis, One could argue that the emphasis the Catholic tradition places upon abortion skewed the vote conservative. While Pope Francis also continues this tradition, he has pushed faithful Catholics to consider other “life” issues as well. In his recent exhortation on holiness in the modern world. the Holy Father wrote that people should place the fight against abortion on equal terms with the fight against poverty. I believe that Pope Francis’ teachings might push people to vote for candidates outside the traditional right wing conservative.
The second reason is that the 2016 and 2018 election were hot political moments that brought people to the polls who otherwise would not have gone. Pro-life Catholics are dedicated to the polls and making their voice heard. These unusual political moments might have had people come to the polls who care for other issues. For example, environmentally conscious Catholics or Catholics who are wary of capital punishment. These two reasons might lead to the recent polarization of the Catholic Vote.
While there was a shift in the Catholic vote towards greater polarization, what was the actual role of the vote? I argue that the Catholic vote had an important role in the election because it covers so many sectors of the population. According to Pew, there are about 51 million Catholics in America. This makes Catholic a large sector of the population. The sheer number of Catholics makes the Catholic vote important. The frustrating part of the large number of Catholics is the large political divide. This made them unpredictable in their voting habits. In other words, I believe that the Catholic vote’s role was important because of the quantity of it. What the ramifications of a polarized church and vote will be left for future historians to understand and study.
The 50/50 vote followed the ideas of scholars. As a Ramonat Scholar, I attended a Mid-terms post-Mortem where Dr. Micheal Murphy of Loyola University Chicago’s Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage mentioned that Catholics are never really at home in the American political world. Due to a Catholic’s commitment to life, they might feel uneasy with the mainstream Democratic party’s position on abortion. The Catholic Church also has strong anti-death penalty and ideas popular with Republican voters. This uneasiness with the political scene may lead to the 50/50 vote. Without having a political party that exactly lines up with their interests, Catholics are left to picking either party. Dr. Murphy’s words reveals an interesting element of being Catholic and political in modern America.
Catholics are confusing. Unlike other political parties, they do not vote in a unified bloc. Despite their diversity, they make up a large portion of the American population which subsequently makes their role in elections important. The 2018 Mid-term election provided the opportunity to see the polarized Catholic vote in action.