Nineteen Sixty-four is a research blog for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University edited by Mark M. Gray. CARA is a non-profit research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church. Founded in 1964, CARA has three major dimensions to its mission: to increase the Catholic Church's self understanding; to serve the applied research needs of Church decision-makers; and to advance scholarly research on religion, particularly Catholicism. Follow CARA on Twitter at: caracatholic.


Briefly Noting...

The Electoral Calculus of Nones
The Washington Times (...later linked by The Drudge Report) picked up my recent post on the importance of None/Others in the 2012 election. Comments to the story indicate some confusion with the math. The data analysis for that post used state-level polling data measuring the size of religious groups and their voting histories and preferences over the last decade. To simplify I'll just work with the national numbers to show how simple the calculus is ( some seem to doubt that 22% of voters can decide an election).

If President Obama wins 72% of the votes of those with no religious affiliation and those with non-Christian religious affiliations (22% of voters in 2010; note this is also the adult population percentage for these groups) he will likely have won a total of 15.8% of the national popular vote. If also he wins 44% of the Christian vote (Catholics, Protestants, and other Christians equaling 78% of voters in 2010) he will likely have won an additional 34.3% of the total popular vote. Add those totals together and you get 50.1%.

This is an over-simplification but even the more complex state-level and historical models and simulations also point to that 44% total of the Christian vote as the lowest level of support the President can receive to still have a chance to win. This is made possible by the strong electoral support he and other Democrats get among those without a religious affiliation and those with a non-Christian affiliation in national elections over the last decade. It just happens that this portion of the electorate has now grown to a point where losing Christian voters no longer means losing the election for Democrats.

Growth in the Catholic Population of Ireland
As predicted here last year, Ireland’s census, released Thursday, shows that Catholicism continues to grow in that country. Despite a campaign by Atheists for people to refrain from checking the Roman Catholic box, the census registered 179,889 more Catholics in 2011 than in 2006 (growth of 4.9%). Eighty-four percent of Ireland’s population self-identifies as Catholic. However, as shown below, Catholicism is not growing as quickly as the overall Irish population.

The number of Irish identifying as “Lapsed Roman Catholic” in the census grew from 540 individuals in 2006 to 1,279 in 2011. The number of non-Catholic Christians in Ireland increased by 46,350  to a total of 281,256 in 2011 (now 6.1% of the population).

Atheists grew from 929 individuals in 2006 to 3,905 in 2011. Agnostics increased from 1,515 to 3,521. Much more notable is the rise in Ireland’s Nones. Those identifying as having no religious affiliation increased from 186,318 in 2006 to 269,811 in 2011 (44.8% growth). Nones now represent 5.9% of Ireland’s population. One in four Nones (25%) were born elsewhere in Europe and 7% immigrated from outside of Europe. Thus, more than two-thirds of Ireland’s Nones (67%) are “homegrown.”

There is a gender gap in Ireland’s non-religious population. In the total population there is a 50/50 split between men and women. But among Atheists, Agnostics, and Nones, men outnumber women 58% to 42% (46,491 more men than women).

Failing History: The President’s “Flat Earth” Jokes

Twice in recent weeks President Obama rather unfortunately described critics of his energy policies as “flat-earthers.” Here is an example:

If some of these folks were around when Columbus set sail they must have been founding members of the Flat Earth Society—they would not have believed that the world was round.

The line usually gets a good laugh and a lot of play on television news. But if one’s aim is to imply that people are being stupid it does not help to use an ignorant understanding of history, science, and as it turns out Catholicism to make your point (… and I’m not the only one surprised by this).

The notion that most people during the time of Columbus thought the earth was flat is one of the most stubbornly false legends of history. Not only incorrect, the roots of this notion are grounded in anti-Catholicism. As scientist and historian James Hannam writes “The myth that people in the Middle Ages thought the earth is flat appears to date from the 17th century as part of the campaign by Protestants.” In America, Washington Irving played an important role in perpetuating the flat earth notion by using it to spice up his widely read Columbus bio-drama. It has been a staple of bad history text books ever since.

Historian Lesley Cormack describes in Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion, how the Columbus story was used as an anti-Catholic insult: “a belief in the flat earth was equated with willful ignorance, while an understanding of the spherical earth was seen as a measure of modernity” (p. 29). Yet the reality is, as Cormack explains, very few people believed that the world was flat during the Middle Ages or even earlier. You can go all the way back to St. Augustine (354-430) and find belief in a spherical earth. She concludes that “there is virtually no historical evidence to support the myth of a medieval flat earth” (p. 34). 

I don’t think President Obama was intentionally repeating a staple of old-fashioned anti-Catholicism for that effect (it would be an odd choice as the Church has generally supported the cause of understanding and dealing with climate change). Instead I think it was akin to a common misconception in the media about science and specifically about the (mis)use of polls of scientists presented as evidence of scientific fact. Many use these polls to try to marginalize critics of green energy and theories of anthropomorphic climate change as out of touch oddballs.

As a pollster and a scientist I can tell you it matters little if 85%, 90%, or 95% of scientists state that they believe human activity is the primary cause of global warming. From the point of view of history the only thing that will matter is how well current climate change models explain and predict the future. Good data and evidence always win out in the end. 

In the early 20th century I am sure most physicists polled would have agreed entirely with the Newtonian model of physics. But there were a small percentage of physicists imagining and discovering something different. One of these men was working in a patent office and was named Albert Einstein. He would have been one of the “doubters” or “deniers” of the classical model of physics in his time. Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions long ago revealed that scientific knowledge does not advance through consensus building as it is often popularly imagined (or as it is presented in media polls of scientists). Our knowledge can take some unexpected and strange twists (e.g., Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, String Theory) and it is often the 5% of “doubters” in the “current models” who end up revealing a more accurate and refined representation of reality (there is considerable group think in science that often irrationally converges on models—stubbornly ignoring counter evidence and attacking those who put this forward... yes, there are a lot of politics in science).

In the discussion of climate change there are specific facts largely beyond doubt (i.e. what some call “incontrovertible evidence”). It is clear to most that warming has occurred in recent decades. I don't know of evidence that would lead one to believe otherwise. But we simply do not have sufficient evidence yet to say that these changes are primarily a result of human activity (even with a feasible model and theory, a correlation between two trends, emissions and temperatures, are insufficient for what one could call incontrovertible evidence of causality) or that the warming has continued to increase as expected in more recent years. Global temperatures do not appear to have kept pace with increases in emissions and atmospheric concentrations. There are also other possible models and explanations with supporting evidence that indicate sources of warming may be related to other natural causes and events. But even if these did not exist it would still be absolutely legitimate to scientifically doubt whether carbon emissions are the primary source of observed climate changes. When it is not legitimate to do so, we either have “incontrovertible evidence” (e.g., for the flat earth this consisted of geometric measurements proving a spherical earth... confirmed much later by circumnavigation and even much later by photographs of the planet from space!) or we are no longer having a scientific discussion (... and there are Nobel Prize winning scientists who have some doubts about human activity-based models of warming). 

A Devils Advocate is useful not only for the cases of saints but also science. The “doubters” fulfill a very important role as skeptics in the process (as long as this is honest and informed skepticism unmotivated by ulterior political purposes or payment from an oil company!). It is part of a good scientific process. The joking rhetoric that is being used in the presidents energy speeches is damaging. Its not only bad history, its bad science.


The New “Catholic Vote”: The Quiet Rise of the None/Others

In 1960, more than 20% of eligible voters self-identified as Catholic. Of those who went to the polls, eight in ten voted for the Catholic Democratic Party candidate John F. Kennedy (82% as measured in the ANES and 78% by Gallup). Kennedy would not have won without this strong level of support among those who shared his faith. Catholics voted largely as a block again in 1964 for Lyndon Johnson and the legend of the “Catholic Vote” was born. But Catholics have never really voted together like this again since. It is the case that most presidential election winners have carried a Catholic majority. Thus, although there has not been a fairly unified Catholic vote since 1964, it has still been true that winning a majority of the vote of Catholics has still been very important.

Given this apparent electoral reality, many have wondered (including me) why President Obama’s administration would make a series of decisions that could lead to the appearance of bias against the Church that would potentially damage his support among some Catholics in an election year.  Here is the widely-noted track record:
  • In January 2012 the administration announced a new mandate requiring employers (and later their insurance companies; although many self-insure) to provide and fully pay for prescribed birth control, “morning after” pills, and medical sterilization for employees without a religious exemption that would include institutions such as Catholic universities, charities, or hospitals.
  • The administration’s 2012 budget defunded the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (for 2014 and beyond) that has provided tuition vouchers for many low income students who attend Catholic schools.
  • In 2011, the administration defunded a Catholic Charities program that provided assistance to victims of human trafficking in finding food and shelter because it would not refer victims to providers of abortion and contraceptives.
  • In a series of 2011 decisions the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that some Catholic college campuses are not significantly religious to be exempt from labor rules. The NLRB argues that these campuses operate “as a secular educational institution.”

Why would an incumbent who needs the vote of Catholics to be re-elected create a record like this? Surprisingly, just looking at the polling data and the electoral math, President Obama doesn’t need to win the Catholic vote or the Protestant vote for that matter! How could this be? Quietly, another solid Democratic Party voting block has grown in size and importance in recent years that has a similar electoral effect to the Catholic-JFK vote. So much so that President Obama could lose both the Catholic and Protestant vote to the Republican nominee—even lose badly—and still win re-election. What the Catholic vote was to Kennedy, a new “None/Other vote” is to President Obama.

Nones are people without a religious affiliation (this does not mean they are all atheists or agnostics... they may even consider themselves to be religious or spiritual in some way—just not connected to any religious group). Others” are a survey research catch-all category of people who have non-Christian religious affiliations. Twenty years ago the combined None/Other vote amounted to less than 10 percent of the population and the voting electorate. Today, the None/Other population percentage has risen to 22 percent (… and is expected to continue to grow in the future). This makes it nearly equivalent in size to the U.S. Catholic population percentage. 

Democrats have not needed a majority of the Protestant vote (using the Exit Poll summary coding of Protestant which includes non-Catholic Christians) for quite some time and they have not had it either. In three recent national elections Democrats have obtained majorities of the Catholic vote (2002, 2006, and 2008) along with high percentages of the None/Other vote. 

In 2012, a tipping point may have been reached. The None/Other vote is now sufficient in size and support for the Democratic Party where President Obama could lose the Catholic vote and still have a good chance of winning re-election. Why can’t Republicans just attempt to take some of the None/Other voters away from Democrats like any other portion of the electorate? It’s a bit of a zero-sum game and it all revolves around social issues on which None/Others generally disagree with Catholics and other Christians (as measured in the General Social Survey 2006-2010. I've aggregated to maximize the number of respondents and minimize margins of error for sub-groups).

For example, Nones and Others (defined in the figures below as religious, non-Christian) are significantly more likely than Catholics and other Christians to support abortion on demand. Just more than a third of Catholics and other Christians support this compared to about six in ten None/Others.

The None/Others are also largely supportive of same-sex marriage—registering support above 60%, whereas minorities of Catholics and other Christians agree with this proposition.


Only about a quarter of Catholics and other Christians strongly support government funding for embryonic stem cell research, whereas about half of None/Others do.

In a more general sense it is also the case that Christians are more conservative than non-Christians. Only 19% of Nones and 20% of those with non-Christian religious affiliations describe themselves as slightly to strongly conservative. A third of Catholics (33%) respond as such. The most conservative sub-group are other Christians of which 42% self-identify as a conservative.

Is there any common ground between these groups? If one moves away from political ideology and culture war issues and towards questions about government intervention to assist the poor or concern for the environment there are fewer differences. For example, about a three in ten of each group says they believe the federal government has a responsibility—more so than the individual or both the government and individuals—to improve the standard of living of all poor Americans.


As shown in the figure below, very similar minority percentages in each group say they are “very concerned” about the environment. Despite President Obama's recent focus on this issue, I doubt “green energy is going to have much traction among any segment of the electorate in this campaign. I do not have a recent survey data on gas prices to evaluate, but my hunch would be there would also not be much difference between the sub-groups on this issue either but I would expect that the level of concern for this would be significantly higher than concern for the environment.

The Republicans are only likely to draw some of the None/Other vote away from the Democrats in a magnitude that could alter electoral outcomes if one or more of the following occurred: 1) an economic downturn (...or $6 gas?), 2) a foreign policy failure by the president, or 3) a political scandal involving the president. But even with these events I’m not sure Republicans would ever have a chance of winning a majority of None/Other voters. The prevailing electoral tides are that strong.

Republicans could alternatively look to dominate the Catholic/Christian vote (not just win, but obtain strong majorities) as a counter-balance to the growing strength of the Nones. Strong majorities among Protestants were the key to Republican Party success in 2010. But looking ahead to November with the economy improving and polling favoring President Obama this does not look likely to reoccur in a magnitude that would be needed. The best hope for Republicans in the future may be an old fashioned American religious revival that could begin to bring down the growing numerical power of the Nones.

In this sense Rep. Ron Paul may have been right when he said social conservatism is “a losing position” in the current electoral environment. There just may not be enough voters in the current electorate who are on the conservative side of “culture war” issues for this to be the focus of a winning Republican electoral strategy at the national/Electoral College level. There is some divide among Christians on these issues and a campaign focusing on these would likely drive None/Other in even greater numbers toward the Democrats.

I’ve run a variety of statistical simulations on the national popular vote as well as state popular votes using exit poll data (accounting for Electoral College votes). The “magic number” coming out of most of these for President Obama is 44. His support among Catholics and Protestants can go no lower than 44% and he will likely win re-election as long as his support among the None/Other vote is similar to what it has been in recent elections (typically above 70% overall). One of the reasons Democrats lost the majority popular vote for the House in 2010 was their extremely low support among Protestant voters. This dropped to 38% in 2010 from a 45% vote total for President Obama in 2008 (44% of Catholics voted for a Democrat in 2010 Congressional elections). If House Democrats would have attracted 44% of the Protestant vote in 2010, and all other outcomes remained the same, estimates for the national House vote would have increased to 50% Democratic overall.

In 2012, if Democratic “safe” states remain as such and President Obama is able to attract only 44% of the Protestant vote and 44% of the Catholic vote in each battleground state, he would likely narrowly lose Ohio and Iowa but still narrowly win majorities in Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri, Nevada, and New Hampshire (in the latter two states one in four or more voters are expected to be None/Others). This would result in 291 Electoral College votes—a healthy surplus above the 270 needed to win re-election (for more on the math see this update).

In other words, perhaps we should not be so surprised to see President Obama take some of the positions he has in direct opposition to Catholic leaders. He may be risking majorities of the Catholic vote yet simultaneously he is also building more strength among None/Other voters. His campaign relies heavily on polling and research and I am sure they fully understand the implications of religious affiliation and vote preferences in the electorate. What seemed so irrational to some weeks ago is beginning to look to me like a campaign strategy. Don’t get me wrong, he cannot run the risk of seriously alienating Catholic or Protestant voters. He just has some room to maneuver given his likely strength among the None/Others. I don't think his campaign is really worried about winning the Catholic vote. In the 2012 political climate, getting just 44% would likely be a win.

[...If this is your first time reading a post here... As I frequently note on any political topic, I am a political scientists who is not registered to vote. I intentionally have no political affiliation nor activity. The analysis above is not intended as advocacy for any candidate, party, or campaign. It is my best attempt at an objective and detached analysis of the polling data and electoral math as it stands today.]


The Day After Tuesday: Cumulative Catholic Vote Update

The amount of the cumulative Catholic Republican vote we can see (in exit and entry polls with the necessary religion questions), post-Super Tuesday, has nearly doubled from just more than 1 million last week to more than 1.8 million today. But the overall results have changed little (previous post) with Gov. Romney leading with 50% (note this is not an average of his estimated vote shares in each contest but the observable cumulative estimated total of Republican Catholic votes based on the exit/entry polling). Updated figures below:

The cumulative totals represent 78% of all the votes cast to date (down a bit from what we could see on Friday at 89%). Caucuses rarely use entry polls (and these have significantly fewer participants). Also, Super Tuesday primary exit polls for Oklahoma, Virginia, and Vermont regrettably did not include a religion question that would allow one to isolate Catholic participants.

Of the contests with observable data, Speaker Gingrich's two best Catholic outcomes have been registered in South Carolina (37%) and Georgia (34%). While Sen. Santorum has done his best among Catholics in Michigan (37%) and Tennessee (36%). Gov. Romney is the only candidate who has won a Republican Catholic majority in any of the states we can see with entry/exit polling (i.e., Florida, 56% and Massachusetts, 75%) and he beat Gingrich in Georgia and Santorum in Michigan among Catholics. These results are notable as the Catholics participating in these contests are not the general election Catholic electorate (which would include many Democrats and Independents). These are outcomes among highly politically active (primaries and caucuses are low turnout contests) Catholic Republicans. For now, even the combined Catholic candidate vote totals we can see lag behind Romney's tally.

[Also, we've now posted a state by state breakdown of the potential numbers of Catholic voters in the November general election here. ... 

... I should also add that the political analysis in my recent posts is from my point of view as a political scientist, not as a Catholic or as a voter. As I have noted here before I'm not registered to vote. As a scientist I aim to be as objective and emotionally detached from the political process as possible. I should also note that CARA has always been a non-partisan, non-profit research center.]


The Potential Catholic Voter: State by State for 2012

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!).

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