Is there a Catholic vote?
Next Tuesday, among the enthusiastic voters for Obama, there will be a 106-year-old nun living in Rome. She said so in an interview with the BBC. It seems that she was not impressed by the number of US bishops who lambasted Obama for his pro-choice policies. Perhaps she was impressed by the other bishops who pointed towards a different position. Or perhaps she decided upon Obama for some other reason which has nothing to do with her religious beliefs.
The old nun brings an important argument to the fore: Is there a Catholic vote? Do Catholics vote in droves for one candidate as a result of their religious beliefs? The question was of particular importance this time round because of the abortion debate. (I am discussing this argument in my blog on timesofmalta.com titled 'To sin or not to sin for Obama'.)
US Catholics used to be reliable Democrat voters. This changed in the 1970s and the 1980s. The 'Catholic vote' shifted to the Republicans. Some said that this shift could be explained as a vote for the party which was more anti-abortion. According to a CNS report, John White, professor of politics at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC, this is not the reason for this shift. He said that as more and more "Catholics became the 'haves'," they saw things differently than their parents who had been blue-collar workers. Socio-economic grouping proved to be more important than religion.
Besides socio-economic groupings, age seems to be another important factor. A survey on the political opinions of young Catholic voters conducted by Public Religion Research (USA) shows that the views of young Catholics are similar to those of their peers on many issues in this year's election, including abortion and same-sex marriage.
Another important factor is religious practice. According to a poll commissioned by the Knights of Colombus, 59 per cent of practising Catholics are pro-life while 65 per cent of non-practising Catholics said they were "pro-choice".
Whether one likes it or not, it seems that gone are the days when religious issues would be the main motivation for voting Catholics. This development could be a sign of an increasing hiatus between one's actions in the private sphere and one's actions in the public sphere. If this is the case, we are witnessing a kind of schizophrenia.
It could also be a sign of maturity. In a situation where Catholics no longer find a natural home in just one party because each party supports some political stance with which Catholics feel uncomfortable, personal prudential judgments become the order of the day. Choosing in such situations is problematic. And enlightenment by Church teaching is a must.
That's why I think that the implications behind this development are more important pastorally than politically.