Super Tuesday has historically been the moment where we can all begin to look past primary and caucus season to the general election in November. When all the votes are counted this evening it may not be so clear this year. Then again it is never too early (especially when you are a political scientist...)
In the tables below we show the estimated number of Catholics of voting age (VAP) in each state in 2012 (using CARA's aggregated survey estimates of the proportion Catholic by state). Note that this includes individuals who are ineligible to vote due to citizenship status or because they are in prison or on parole. It also excludes military and diplomats overseas who can vote. Michael McDonald at George Mason University has been calculating the voting eligible population (VEP) since 2000 adjusting for these realities. The tables includes a column representing the total VEP as a percentage of VAP (registered voters and "likely voters" are even smaller shares of VAP). Where the VEP percentage is close to 100% this means most of the state's voting age population is eligible to register and vote. However, in places like California where this VEP is only 81% of VAP we can assume that VAP is overestimating the potential number of voters (we cannot estimate VEP by religion specifically).
The color of each state name represents the outcome in 2008 with red representing a Republican win and blue a Democratic win. State names with an '*' are expected to be "battleground" states in 2012 and are considered "in play." The number of 2012 Electoral College votes by state is also presented in the tables as well as the Catholic vote outcome for 2008 (where possible; using existing exit poll data). The final column in the tables shows the proportion of the state's total votes (not to be confused with its VAP) in 2008 that were cast by Catholics (again estimated from exit poll data).
There are an estimated 55.6 million Catholics in the 2012 VAP. Nearly 8 in 10 (79%) reside in the 16 states with 306 Electoral College votes (a candidate needs 270 to win). Five of these states are expected to be battleground states including Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. President Obama lost the Catholic vote in both Pennsylvania and Ohio in 2008 but won in the total electorate. Although candidates have historically needed to win the Catholic vote nationally to win the presidency this is not the case at the state level. In fact, Sen. McCain won the Catholic vote in five large states that President Obama won among all voters.
Incumbents most often play defense. They try to maintain the state map they won in their initial election and build where possible into states lost. The challenging candidate must often focus on taking states back that their party lost in the last election.
Candidates have often had some success in their birth states, residency states, and states they have represented or served significantly. Republican candidate Mitt Romney is perhaps more likely to succeed in Massachusetts and in his birth state of Michigan than any of the other Republicans in the race (Utah is a "safe" Republican state with or without Romney). As has been the case in recent elections, Florida will likely be ground zero for the election battle. Thus, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is often the focus of discussion when considering the "strategic choice" for a Republican running mate. Rubio self-identifies as Catholic (although he has a complex religious background).
If Romney were to eventually win the nomination and was able to maintain the current "safe" Republican states and in the absolute rosiest of scenarios pick up Michigan, Massachusetts, and Florida he would only be at 237 electoral votes. If he could also turn southern states like Virginia and North Carolina back to the Republican column where they have been for decades before 2008 he would be much closer at 265 electoral votes. A "big" potential Romney win would see him also adding western states like Colorado and Nevada as well as New Hampshire. This combination would put him over the top at 284 electoral votes without even accounting for traditional battle grounds like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, or Missouri. Thus, Romney may be able to make the case that he has more potential paths to 270 than either Sen. Santorum or Speaker Gingrich. Neither have had much success at attracting the Republican Catholic vote. Gingrich is perhaps strongest in the South where Republicans already have many "safe" states. Santorum might do better nationally than Gingrich but would still likely have little chance of picking up a Northeastern state and would likely struggle more than Romney in the West.
The mid-size Catholic vote states (in the table above) are full of potential contested territory including Missouri, Colorado, Virginia, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Iowa, and New Hampshire. These represent the more conventional path to 270 electoral votes for the candidates. It will likely be difficult for President Obama to add much more blue to his 2008 map. He will likely suffer some "regression to the mean" (as will some Republicans in Congress following the 2010 election results). He could possibly add Missouri and Arizona in his rosier scenarios.
States with the fewest Catholics were disproportionately won by Sen. McCain in 2008. All of the Republican states in this group are expected to be safe for Republicans again in 2012. Similarly, all of the states won here by President Obama in 2008 are expected to be in his column again in 2012. There is no battleground here (don't expect many campaign visits!).