The Catholic Thing
The Disappearing White Catholic Voter Print E-mail
By George J. Marlin   
Wednesday, 28 November 2012

For over seventy years, white blue-collar Catholics who have lived and worked in America’s once great industrial states were the voting bloc that provided the margins of victory for Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, and the two Bushes. The 2012 election results, however, indicate these Catholics no longer have that kind of clout at the ballot box.

Why? First of all, they are an aging group whose numbers are declining every year. About 650 Catholic World War II and Korean War veterans die every day. That translates into 950,000 in the last four years. Add spouses and the number may easily have hit 2 million.

Next, the once solid Catholic vote is fractured beyond repair. Millions of grandchildren and great grandchildren of those aging Catholics have abandoned their faith and embraced secularism. Fifty-seven percent of white cafeteria Catholics cast their ballots for Obama in 2012. An equal percentage of practicing Catholics voted for Romney.

Finally, in recent years a subset of blue-collar Catholics have dropped out of the work force for no apparent reason (Charles Murray examines this phenomena in Coming Apart: The State of White America). Some live with their folks, collect unemployment benefits, and occasionally grab “off the books” jobs. They refuse to become responsible adults and soak up a living from poverty programs. These Catholics typically either don’t vote or support big government candidates.  

For all these reasons, plus the fact that Obama’s campaign devoted huge resources to identifying and turning out its base (and convinced former supporters to sit out the election  8.3 million 2008 white voters did not cast a ballot this year), Romney lost all the Rust Belt states with large Catholic populations:

Pennsylvania (35 percent Catholic) – This was one to watch in 2012 because of its large white Catholic population (only 4 percent are Hispanic) and because it has the fourth oldest population in the nation. As William Galston of the Brookings Institute predicted last June: “Obama got 47 percent of the white Catholic vote in 2008; right now he has 37 percent. . .potentially a big deal in the Midwest. . . .despite the fact that Obama is now ahead in Pennsylvania, I don’t see how he carries Pennsylvania with white Catholic support at that level.”

In November, Romney received 50 percent of generic Catholic vote, down 2 percent from McCain’s 2008 percentage. White Catholics broke 56-44 percent for Romney. Obama carried nine of the top twenty Catholic counties, down two from 2008. But, in those counties, Romney’s total votes, vis–à–vis McCain’s, were down 40,192 (-2.6 percent). 


Turnout in Key Catholic Urban/Suburban Counties versus 2008

While Romney’s vote total was up in two of the counties, he managed to carry only Chester County, the smallest of the group.

Michigan (29 percent Catholic) – In his home state, Romney received 55 percent of the generic Catholic vote and 55 percent of white Catholics. He carried 12 of the top 20 Catholic counties. Four years earlier McCain received 46 percent and 51 percent respectively, and carried only 5 of the top Catholic counties. Obama’s total votes in those counties were down 69,339 votes (-8.3 percent) while Romney’s were up 29,635 votes (+4.45 percent). Nevertheless, this small shift was not nearly enough to put Romney over the top

Romney lost Michigan because he did not make serious inroads in densely populated Catholic counties. One-time Reagan Democrats in bellwether Macomb County stuck with Obama giving him 52 percent of their votes. In 2008 Obama received 53 percent. The Obama campaign’s message that Romney was a plutocrat who would shut down Michigan’s automobile industry worked.

Ohio (26 percent Catholic)  This must-win state went for Obama, 50.9 percent versus 49 percent for Romney.

Romney’s Catholic percentages improved over McCain’s by about 3 percent, but the total number of Catholics who went to the polls was down in 15 key counties, declining 3.6 percent (28,321 votes) compared to McCain. Meanwhile, Obama easily carried and maintained his margins in the densely populated heavily Catholic counties of Cuyahoga and Hamilton.

The Obama campaign convinced disenchanted white blue-collar Catholics to stay home on Election Day and while the black vote was down 1 million nationally their turnout in Ohio increased by 178,000.

Wisconsin (32 percent Catholic)  Thanks to favorite son Paul Ryan, this was the only Rust Belt state in which voter turnout increased.  Total votes cast in 2012 were up 86,092 (+2.68 percent) over 2008. Obama went down 2.9 percent and Romney up 11.6 percent.

Romney carried 56 percent of the generic Catholic vote and 57 percent of white Catholics (McCain got 53 percent and 52 percent, respectively). The Romney ticket also squeaked by in Ryan’s congressional district with 51 percent. (McCain, 48 percent).

Romney increased his vote totals over McCain’s in all but two top Catholic counties. He won 24 (versus 9 for McCain), but his vote total increase was only 63,266 out of 2.4 million cast. Romney’s gains were offset by Obama’s gains in the two most populated Catholic counties, Dane (Madison) and Milwaukee. The Obama campaign focused on its base and turned out more supporters than in 2008. Obama carried Wisconsin with 53 percent (56 percent in 2008).

Romney needed at least two of the states described here to win. He lost them all because, in my judgment, practicing Catholic voters were not persuaded to come out in force.

Romney’s numbers crunchers did not understand the importance of practicing Catholics in tightly contested Rust Belt states and did not effectively cultivate them. They were also afraid to advertise Romney’s anti-abortion stand and opposition to same-sex marriage to energize these Catholics. The Obama campaign exploited these errors. And let’s not forget the American bishops. Most of them failed to mobilize Catholics over religious liberty on Election Day.

Thus ends a once great force in America’s electoral politics: white Catholic voters. What a pity.

George J. Marlin is an editor of The Quotable Fulton Sheen and the author of The American Catholic VoterHis most recent book is Narcissist Nation: Reflections of a Blue-State Conservative.
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Comments (19)Add Comment
written by ib, November 28, 2012
Alas, Romney could not defend his pro life stance because ... he barely had one. Ditto for gay marriage. Serious Roman Catholics had a very difficult time supporting Romney if they supported him at all. And what to make of the 42% of weekly attending "catholics" who voted for obama? It's rebellion against the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, plain and simple. Rather than a fortnight for fun, we need an Advent focused on the consequences of mortal sin: death and hell.
written by Manfred, November 28, 2012
@Mr. Marlin: This year represents the fiftieth anniversary of the start of Vatican II. Both of your recent columns on the 2008-2012 elections should be added to the celebratory commentaries. "By their fruits you shall know them." The grandchildren and great-grandchildren did not abandon their faith-the faith(?) abandoned them. The President of the USCCB is on the Stephen Colbert Show making an ass of himself? Only a fool could ever take AmChurch seriously.
Thank you for the hard work you put into your reports. These reports should be used in the canonical trials when all the American bishops, with a very few exceptions, are indicted for criminal malpractice for the last sixty years. Do you think these trials will ever happen? That is why so many Catholics voted with their feet.
written by Jack,CT, November 28, 2012
Mr Marlin,
Your article is at the very laeast provacative!
I disagree about how the numbers swing,the Catholic voter
is looking for "Immigration Reform",the loss of 650 "White
Collar Catholic voters daily",I would love where you get
that data from?
The Catholic voter has evolved as the Church has not.
We need to remember that the Latino vote will make or
break an election.
Remember the guy who told all the "Illegals" to "Self
That perhaps hurt him as well as ostrcising the "47% of
There were also those who looked at the "Morman" issue
as an issue.
I see all your stats as valid and interesting but they
are certainly not the only "Common Denominator"!
My support was firmly behind Romney but I was not
Happy with how his people DID NOT capitalize on the
slow down of African American voters.
I have no idea what your issue with the American
Bishops comes from,people are suppose to make there
own vote,correct?
Overall you made a provacative group of statements
and I respectfully disagree with 90% of it,but it
was a joy to read.
Romney had issues than losing :Korean war vets!
written by Ed Dougherty, November 28, 2012
Someone should tell Mr. Marlin that the bellweather county in Michigan that he cites is spelled Macomb County, not McComb County. As a resident of the Metro Detroit area, which Macomb County is a part of, it's hard for me to take Mr. Marlin seriously after a gaffe such as this.
written by Clement Williams, November 28, 2012
When the whole of society has been trending away from belief in God and the accompanying trust in God's ability to come to our aid with prayer, fasting and asking for forgiveness, why should anyone be surprised that Catholics would not succumb to the idolatry pervading our society?
written by Jim, November 28, 2012
How did black (generic or practicing) Catholics turnout? and vote?
written by anon, November 28, 2012
The reason a subset of blue-collar Catholics dropped out of the work force is:


They HAVE to live at home, they HAVE to get benefits to survive. There are only minimum wage part time jobs that one person can't survive on, much less a married couple pumping out a dozen church approved babies. The Church can only hand out so many cans of beans at the food pantry.
..., Low-rated comment [Show]
written by Chris in Maryland, November 28, 2012
Here are some anecdotes to underscore the themes emerging re: "The Catholic vote."

1 - Our family had to leave our local parish in Maryland because of open clerical dissent against The Pope and The Magisterium, coupled with "Mass-time" marketing of liberal/progressive politics.

2 - We started attending Mass at a "middle-of-the-road" parish 2-3 years ago, 20 miles away. A priest "presided" at Mass one or two Sunday's before the election. The Gospel was about The Sanctity of Marriage - the homily delivered was about social justice. I left Mass with the distinct impression that the homily was "tuned" to the assembled parishioners for this Mass - as it was the regularly scheduled "Contemporary Mass" (which we normally avoid).
3 - This week, at my daughter's "Catholic" university (in the NE corridor), the Law School faculty are demanding that the administration permit activities of Pro-Abortionists, Planned Parenthood and The V-Monologues on campus. My wife and mother-in-law, who themselves attended universities peopled/run by the same religious order, believe that my daughter will get a great education. I try to explain to them that it's still possible to get a great Catholic education there - if my daughter can take courses with professors "in the orthodox underground" of the faculty.

So the old ones are indeed dying away, and the replacements are normally in situations 1, 2 and 3.
written by Don M, November 28, 2012
I agree with most of the article but one needs to allow that many American men,not just Catholic men, have lost the kinds of solid manufacturing jobs that used to make them productive taxpaying members of the community. The Church's policy on illegal immigration also seems very insensitive to the whole notion of law. We accept more legal immigrants than any other country in the world! The Federal court in Foley Square in NYC is so heavily fortified it appears like an outpost on the Siegfried line. The Church makes a perfunctory recital of the need for law and order, while in practice it seems to foster support for what has been for generation or two, a wholesale assault on the rule of law. Illegal immigration benefits those who profit from it, while its costs are socialized.

The undocumented are the least to be blamed as their employers exploit them.

Religious morale is at a low ebb. People no longer socialize in person. They "bowl alone." The economy has changed. Technology has wiped out jobs. The "new class" benefits from cheap products manufactured overseas. More people are going into the wagon and fewer and fewer people are pulling or pushing it.

I voted for Romney but not without misgivings. Were we looking for a fight in the Middle East?

The fortnight for freedom was trivialized by our "civil" invitation of both presidential candidates to the Al Smith Dinner, there to share a laugh with Chris Mathews whose presence on the dais spoke volumes. He who would not allow Bishop Tobin get a word out of his mouth when discussing the issue of abortion advocacy by so-called Catholic politicians.

Perhaps, we need a Christian Democratic paqrty in the U.S.

The Wednesday morning RINOS attribute the Romney loss to opposition to abortion and same-sex pseudo-marriage.

I feel sad for the single women who meet men who have never had to show, or who are unable to show that they will ever earn a decent living.

The "gentlemen" among them are those who will pay at least half the cost of an abortion, if something goes wrong.

Then there is the liberal catholic commentariat who believe that a pope should be collegial with his or her bishops because that's what the Civil rights act of 1964 requires. The laity, however, may be noncommital when a Bishop purports to teach, rule or sanctify.
written by Sue, November 28, 2012
" They were also afraid to advertise Romney’s anti-abortion stand and opposition to same-sex marriage to energize these Catholics." No Mr Marlin, because there was no such credible stand by Romney. I'm not sure what is the point of your race-conscious analysis, but the fact is that truly faithful Catholics voted for NObomney, neither for Hitler nor for Stalin. They voted with their fiat.
written by diaperman, November 28, 2012
Like Hadley Arkes earlier, you present no evidence at all for your main contention that practicing Catholics would have turned out in larger numbers if Romney had emphasized his opposition to abortion more. And you overlook the obvious problem that if Romney had emphasized this issue more it might have hurt him among secular Republicans whom he also needed to win.

I think we need to look ourselves in the mirror and admit the reality that there are no more single issue anti-abortion voters to mobilize and turn out to back GOP candidates. Every voter who cares about that issue is already mobilized. We're tapped out. If pro-life candidates are to win, they have to make themselves attractive to a broader electorate.

Which brings me to the second point in which I agree with the previous poster Don M. The GOP needs to rethink its economic and foreign policy agenda. I'm fed up with the GOP's pointless belligerence ultimatums etc. in the international arena. And I'm fed up with the bloated defense budgets. ROmney surrounded himself with genuises who gave us the Iraq war and pledged to increase defense spending.

I'm fed up with tax cuts targeted to the wealthy at a time of record deficits, soaring debt and with taxes at a post war low in relative to GDP. And I'm fed up with a party that has no interest at all in the problem of unemployment (Romney had no plan to address it!)and stagnating or declining wages for people who do work. And the GOP could care less about people with no health insurance forcing Catholic voters to choose between a bad reform (Obamacare) and no reform (which is what the GOP was offering). I'm sick of a party that thinks that all wealth is created by an entrepeneurial class (workers are basically just riding in the wagon) and has nothing to do with people in the middle actually being able to prosper and afford to buy things. And yes, I'm sick of a party that thinks concern for the poor and struggling is socialism.

If you want to do better with Catholic voters, that might be a good place to start.

Like Don M I voted for Romney unenthusiastically. But I have no beef with those less enthusiastic even than me who stayed home!
written by Ib, November 28, 2012
@Chris in Maryland

Save some money and send your daughter to a good state university in Maryland. Have her belong to the local Newman Center and make sure she goes to Mass each week and socializes pretty much exclusively at the Newman Center. You will find she will stay a better Roman Catholic than going to a secularized Jesuit University. I have taught at three different Jesuit universities and can only recommend one of them as truly Roman Catholic.

Now I teach at a large state University and find that the serious Roman Catholic kids at the Newman Center are far more faithful than the many uninspired me-too-ers at those Jesuit schools.
written by Don M, November 28, 2012
In July 2011, New York passed the same-sex marriage bill in the dark of night without any floor debate that I could discern. Was there no articulate Catholic politician who could pose an objection? The question answers itself.

In the late political campaign, the off the wall comments of two senatorial canidates were bruited about from Maine to Molokai, but in 2008, no one brought up the extreme votes on abortion of a presidential candidate who had no executive experience at all, and who had supported same-sex marriage as a state senator, though he professed to be opposed to it as a national candidate because of his Christian respect for marriage, as the union of one man and one woman.

Media bias is real.

On one Sunday morning discussion panel I saw Newt Gingrich strike back citing these discrepancies. He shocked his fellow panelists into silence.

Doris Kearns Goodwin's jaw almost hit the table, as if to say this kind of citation to an alternative radical liberal activism, is just not done! One does not bring up a vote to let the baby born of a botched abortion die; it is indecent to do so.

Still, where is the pro life candidate training facility that teaches a bit of history, law and proper phraseology?

If Roe were overturned tomorrow, I suspect that most states would have laws that would restrict but not eliminate abortion.

Prior to 1973, most states allowed abortion in cases of rape and to save the life of the mother. Those laws stopped the vast majority of abortions and these laws did lend support to a civic culture of life that was not exactly congruent with Catholic doctrine and the moral law.
We have to be more creative.

Everyone knows the words to "We shall overcome." What is the name of the pro life anthem?

Imagine a song being sung during the annual March for Life that would be heard by everyone working at the Capitol!

Imagine a campaign of guerrilla tactics with the media that continue to ignore this annual outpouring of principle by people who seek nothing for themselves.

Buy a pre-addressed postcard addressed to the NY Times, or some such media grandee. "We were here; did you miss us?"

Why didn't you cover the march and the religious and governmental leaders who spoke at this annual event?

I am not naive. I am thinking of the fun cards that would satirize the abysmal double standard, and that would be seen by dozens of folks en route.

Prizes for the most eloquent message. The funniest message. The most touching message. A website listing all insignificant Capitol events that have received extensive media coverage.

Project 1,000,000. Send 1,000,000 letters asking Presient Obama to call onthe FCC to re-institute the fairness doctrine.

Add a final line. "Just joking." WE KNOW it's fair to ignore us."

Hope springs eternal in the human breast.
written by Michael, November 29, 2012
My Catholic conscience is guilt-free after voting for President Obama. If the Catholic clergy and the Catholic laity keep saying, "You're not a 'true Catholic' if you vote for a Democrat. You must vote for the Republican candidate. The abortion issue must be your number one issue.", well, then, even MORE Catholics, cafeteria or otherwise, will ignore the Bishops, their Priest, and Catholic Pro-Life groups. Tell us what the Church teaches and what the Church wants us to believe. Fine. But, Don't Tell Me How To Vote.
written by Juan, November 29, 2012
Romney is a fraud and a disgrace to humanity. The bishops forgot that the bible speaks of many things. How can you be pro-life and support a budget that cuts pre and post natal programs? Was there really ever a time when they spoke bad about the Ryan budget after the vp choice? Did they say that romney was overall better and that the Ryan budget was kosher, but that it needed some changes?

why support the tea party 24/7? It is one thing if we can't things like social security or do them better via other forms, but the church didn't stand up to those that said that it these things were unconstitutional and immoral. The bishops were nothing about cheerleaders for the tea party.

And don't get me started on immigration and the DREAM Act.
written by Alecto, November 29, 2012
It's really past time to stop referring to Catholics who vote for Obama as "Catholic". I'll send thunderbolts up the arse of anyone who takes umbrage with that statement. Catholicism is a set of beliefs and practices aimed at salvation in the life to come, not entitlement programs and redistribution of income policies parading around as "charity". Honestly, I'm thinking not enough of these Catholics had the tar beat out of them as kids. We need to reinstitute that practice by distributing free rulers instead of condoms. Yeah, that's right, RULERS!
written by art, December 03, 2012
This is an incredible article. Growing up in Blue Collar Conn, everybody took the bus to work, everybody worked in the factory, everybody was and stayed married(this was the 60's and 70's). Your quality of life was determined by whether the company you worked for was regulated or defense dependent- or not. If regulated/defense(phone, railroad, United Tech)- you were uppper middle class.. if not (i.e sold products to Sears,etc) you were lower middle class. The main diffence was 2 family house(lower)v 1(upper), Ford(lower), Mercury (Upper) but you lives were similar. There was the Holy Name Soc, St Teresa Guild etc where a doctor(or wife) and factory worker(or wife)were together. Now we are all tossed to the wind and the gulf is wide. When i fill up my car I see so many young white guys in 30's working for landscaping(God knows what young urban blacks do) and there is no way they will be religous, get married, etc. How do we get it back..that is an economic question but i lament the changes.
written by Christopher Ekstrom, December 22, 2012
Having meet Cardinal Dolan prior to the election I cannot say I was filled with confidence in his leadership & approach to the election. I declined to attend the Al Smith dinner/travesty with invited guest NerObama. Perhaps next year the Anti-Christ will be available. If this is the way the leadership of Roman Catholicism that wears the red defends our Faith then pray to Our Saviour for Prophets & martyrs to appear willing to. Our victory is certain in the next life: on Earth we must fight!

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