The Catholic Voter

A Description with Recommendations

During the 2004 election, some bishops insisted that Catholics should obey church teachings in deciding how to vote. Some bishops even declared that prochoice Catholic politicians should be denied Communion. The ensuing public controversies shed more heat than light on many questions: Which church teachings on what issues ought to matter most? How should Catholics decide between candidates? If Catholic politicians are obliged to follow church teachings when making laws, are Catholic judges also supposed to “vote Catholic” in deciding cases?

But let’s start with an easier-to-answer empirical question: How, in fact, do American Catholics vote? The basic answer is that Catholics are political centrists. Catholics come closer than any other large religious cohort in the country to mirroring the American electorate. Start with partisan affiliations. About 44 percent of Catholics, compared to 42 percent of all Americans, identify as Democrats; 41 percent of Catholics, compared to 38 percent of all Americans, identify as Republicans; and 15 percent of Catholics, versus 20 percent of all Americans, identify as Independents.

Opinion surveys typically find that about one-third of Americans describe themselves as “conservative,” roughly one-fifth call themselves “liberal,” and a plurality chooses other labels, mostly “moderate.” Nearly a fifth of Catholics choose the label “liberal,” slightly over a third select “...

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About the Author

John J. DiIulio Jr. directs the Program for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society (PRRUCS). This essay is adapted from a PRRUCS report available at During 2001, he directed the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. He has served on the domestic policy steering committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.