When Will the Myth of a Catholic Vote Go Away?

No single group of people ever votes collectively the same way. 

Catholic whatever

Photo Source: Pew Research Center

When looking at the graph above, it is evident that there is not one religious group that ever tends to vote collectively the same way. This should be obvious. Of the religious groups included in the graph above, Catholics are one of the more divided religious groups with 37 percent Republican, 44 percent Democrat, and 19 percent independent/other. There is neither a simple majority affiliation nor a trend of any kind. It should be noted that when the “Catholic Vote” is referenced, the intent is likely to reference the statistics of a plurality of how Catholics tend to vote, rather than collective tendencies.

This is not only seen within religious groups, but nearly every group of people. What I mean by this is that it is a fact of human nature that not every person within any given group of people will always vote exactly the same, or ever. Now statistically speaking, yes, occasionally there tends to be trends between the ways in which a group of people may tend to vote. However, this does not guarantee that every person involved in a group will always vote either the same way, or for the same issues. For instance, Catholics are generally said to support efforts against abortion, yet there are Catholics that identify as pro-life for reasons crucial to their identity other than their religion. To assume that a group of people can be amounted to a statistical stereotype of past voting trends is preposterous and ignores the individual uniqueness and complexity that makes up the identity of every single human being. In this statement, I am alluding to intersectionality of one’s identity. When it is assumed that someone will vote a certain way solely based on the fact that they identify as a Catholic (or anything else for that matter), the rest of their identity is then thrown in the trash and ignored. You can be a Catholic and a woman, or a Catholic and an African-American, or even a Catholic and gay. All facets of one’s identity come with their own feelings and experiences which make it impossible, and even disrespectful, to assume that one aspect of someone’s identity will prevail over another. That being said, statistics can be helpful, but should be taken with a grain of salt and not the end-all-be-all. When considering how Catholics have voted in the past compared to present day, my observation holds true: while trends may exist from time to time, there is always at least one person who is in dissent, therefore, Catholics were no more a collective voting population back then than they are today. Statistics and pluralities aside, the catholic vote does not exist.

When considering “American Catholics and the New Conservatism of the 1950s” by Patrick Allitt, it seems as though the existence of Catholics on both sides of the aisle existed as far back as the 1950s and proves that this is not a new phenomenon. One thing that did change, however, was a shift in the ideology of conservatives which according to Sarah Bradstreet, was a shift from a moderate stance to more extremely right-winged ideology within the Republican Party. What is interesting is that Sarah Bradstreet is not a name associated with the article I had cited. She is actually an advanced placement U.S. history high school teacher from a website called Magoosh.com that provided one of the clearest definitions of what “New Conservatism” was and what it consisted of that I could find. One critique of mine in regard to Allitt’s article is that he does not always do a good job of clearly distinguishing or defining ideas in a concise or productive way. I was left to google a clear definition of “New Conservatism” because he wrongly assumed the reader would already know.

Besides my critique, it is also said in Allitt’s article that two new conservative journals by the names of National Review and Modern Age were emerging in the mid 1950s and both possessed a large number of Catholic contributors. This alone is proof enough of my claim that Catholics do not collectively identify with the same party affiliation nor vote in the same ways. In fact, they do not always agree on the same issues either. Allitt states that “A study of these conservatives shows that it was not only politically liberal Catholics who were becoming restless under the close embrace of the pre-conciliar Church, but also politically conservative Catholics.” This shows liberal as well as conservative Catholics garnering similar feelings for a common concept. However, he also states that a liberal animosity to the new conservatives existed as well. This lightly demonstrates the complexity involved in observing these types of situations because while both sides may have both grown restless over a general topic, they were still divided among one another. The content of “American Catholics and the New Conservatism of the 1950s” by Patrick Allitt generally provides insight to the existence of a divide among Catholic party affiliation, as well as the absence of the idea of a single and collective “Catholic vote.”

Slightly unrelated in a sense, but this also brings forth the problem of a two-party political system. A two-party system takes all the issues within a country, splits them into two, and lumps them together within two separate groups pitted against each other. This effectively makes politics into a black-and-white process and ignores the complexity of political beliefs. Why is it that only one party can endorse equal civil rights? Am I not allowed to want smaller government while promoting the equal treatment of my fellow human beings? If one party endorses something, why does the other automatically and blindly disenfranchise it? Maybe the reason that people do not read into the other side is because of the way the party system is built. Could that also be a factor in why voter turnout is so low? I am convinced that our two-party system has a larger effect on the way our politics play out than people want to admit, but we can save that for another blog.


Photo Source: Spencer Bailey

Getting back to the subject, my classmates and I went on a field trip last Tuesday, October 30th to Hyde Park. There was an event at the University of Chicago’s Seminary Co-op Bookstore where the author of one of our class texts, Steven P. Millies, was to discuss his book on Catholic Americans and their relationship with voting called “Good Intentions.”

Photo Source: Spencer Bailey

The University of Chicago’s campus was absolutely beautiful, as you can see above with the photo I took of my gorgeous friend, Alice Gordon, and the Seminary Co-op Bookstore that had an insurmountable selection of books. I had never actually been to Hyde Park nor the University of Chicago so I was incredibly happy to get to see another Chicago neighborhood. The disparity between the appearance of the area that the University was in and the area around it was quite big. I would be very interested in finding out why, but once again, we can save that for another blog.

On the topic of the actual content of the event, Mr. Millies upheld much of what he said about the “Catholic vote” in his book, “Good Intentions.” Millies outlined perfectly in his book that “Catholics do vote, but their voting behavior is not distinctively different from any other group of Americans. They vote for Republicans or Democrats in nearly the same proportions as other groups of Americans.” This is once again, evidence to support my claim that since Catholics are just as divided among party affiliation, that a “Catholic vote” ceases to exist. Millies even says it explicitly himself: Study after study for more than twenty years has confirmed the same result—there is no such thing as a ‘Catholic vote.'” What more evidence could you ask for?


Allitt, Patrick. “American Catholics and the New Conservatism of the 1950s.” U.S. Catholic Historian, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 15–37.

Millies, Steven P. Good Intentions: a History of Catholic Voters Road from Roe to Trump. Liturgical Press, 2018.

One thought on “When Will the Myth of a Catholic Vote Go Away?

  1. Pingback: The Outdated Notion of a Catholic Vote Meets the Midterm Elections of 2018 – Catholicism in American Politics

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