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.


Bellwether Second Thoughts: The State-level Catholic Vote

On the national level, the votes of U.S. Catholics are a bellwether—nearly always in line with the popular vote outcome—and this was the case again in 2012 (50% for President Obama and 48% for Gov. Romney). However, the national popular vote does not decide the presidency and instead we use the population-weighted popular votes of the states in the Electoral College system to determine the winner.

Although President Obama won more Catholic votes nationally than Gov. Romney, he would have lost badly in the states if the Catholic vote acted as a similar bellwether on that level. We can’t see what role religion played in each state because a religion question is not fielded in every state and this year some states did not even have an exit poll. But based on what we can see Mitt Romney would likely have preferred that the state-level Catholic vote would have been the bellwether rather than the national.

It is unlikely that President Obama won the Catholic vote in any Southern state and with what we can see above Romney would have been just 69 electoral votes shy of 270. So how did the president get to 50% percent of the Catholic vote nationally? By winning this in California by +24 percentage points (62% to 38%). He also had big advantages in smaller states we can see like New Mexico (+32 percentage points) and Maine (+15). Romney won the Catholic vote in several Democratic states including Connecticut (+2), Illinois (+3), New York (+6), and New Jersey (+8) and led by strong margins in some of the Midwestern swing states including Michigan (+11), Ohio (+11), and Wisconsin (+12).

There certainly is no consolation prize for winning the Catholic vote at the state level! But Mitt Romney can look back at his state by state performances in the primaries and later in the general election and see quite a bit of success among Catholic voters. Republicans of the future on the other hand need to be aware that winning the Catholic (and Protestant) vote in many states is no longer enough to win national elections. The “Nones” of 2012 are as important to the Democratic Party now as Catholics were to them in 1960 (pre-election, post-election).

A comparison of which candidate won the Catholic, Protestant, and None vote is shown in the table below:

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