While Catholics have been swing voters since Richard Nixon’s second term, white Catholics are now identifying as Republican by historic margins. According to the most recent polling from the Pew Research Center, 53 percent of white Catholics now favor the GOP, versus 39 percent who favor the Democrats—the largest point spread in the history of the Pew poll. And for the first time, white Catholics are more Republican than the voting group usually considered the ultimate Republicans: white Protestants (a designation that includes both mainline and evangelical Protestants).The movement to the GOP has been especially strong during the Obama years.
[Steve] Krueger [of Catholic Democrats] points to the Catholic bishop’s demonization in 2011 of the “contraceptive mandate” in the Affordable Care Act, and their subsequent ginning up of the war on “religious liberty” — which was joined by elements of the religious right and fused with its war on Obamacare — as another factor helping to drive Catholics toward the GOP. And the numbers bear Krueger out. According to Pew, between 2009 and 2014, the number of white Catholics who said the Obama administration — and by inference the Democratic Party — was “unfriendly to religion” more than doubled from 17 percent to 36 percent.
Pew gives even more hints about what’s driving the shift with its breakdown of the issues that proved important to various groups of religious voters in the 2014 midterms. It turns out, for example, that Catholic Republicans are just about as dissatisfied as Republican Evangelicals with what they see as the GOP’s failure to cut spending. A total of 47 percent of Catholic Republicans say the GOP is “too liberal” on spending, which is just 1 point lower than Evangelical Republicans. The other area where white Catholics feel the GOP isn’t being tough enough is immigration: Just under one-third say the GOP is too liberal here, again similar to the 35 percent of white Evangelicals who think there should be more of a crackdown on undocumented immigrants.