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Camelot Only Comes but Once? John F. Kerry and the Catholic Vote

Authors


Mark M. Gray is research assistant professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. His research focuses on elections, voter turnout, and the political attitudes and behavior of Catholics within the United States and from comparative perspectives.

Paul M. Perl is research assistant professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. His research focuses generally on the sociology of religion and specifically on the religious attitudes and behavior of U.S. Catholics, including the effects of Catholic schooling and changes in Catholic attendance at religious services.

Mary E. Bendyna is research assistant professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, where she serves as the center’s executive director. Her research focuses on the relationships between religious values and political orientations and includes studies of political attitudes and behaviors of American Catholics and their role in contemporary American politics.

Abstract

Those who have believed in a “Catholic vote” as some unified bloc or as a consistent “swing” component of the U.S. electorate should pay close attention to the results of the 2004 presidential election. The failure of John F. Kerry, the first major party Catholic candidate since John F. Kennedy, to definitively win the votes of those in the electorate who share his faith should finally put to rest the myth of a Catholic presidential vote. The research presented here indicates that it was also a myth that most Catholics were primarily motivated in 2004 by “moral values” in making their presidential choice at the ballot box. Using survey data from the 1960, 2000, and 2004 elections, we show that partisanship has grown to trump faith for Catholic voters due to a combination of demographic factors, changes within the Catholic Church, and changes within the U.S. party system. The defining features of anything that one might call the Catholic vote are in its fractures, not its wholeness.

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