Did U.S. Bishops Sway Voters?

Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo.
Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo. (photo: CNS)

Did the interventions of Catholic bishops before the election regarding the responsibility of Catholic voters to give primacy to life and marriage issues have any effect?

It looks like they may have, according to an analysis by Mark Gray, director of Catholic polls at Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

Gray says that a state-by-state breakdown of exit poll data on the Catholic vote in the 2008 presidential election indicates that in some states where bishops highlighted the primacy of the abortion and marriage issues, a significant percentage of Catholic voters appear to have followed their shepherds’ advice and voted against Presidential-elect Barack Obama.

In his analysis, available here at Our Sunday Visitor’s website, Gray offers “a more nuanced view” of the raw Catholic vote data that found that Obama won the overall Catholic vote by a 54%-45% margin over John McCain.

Despite outperforming 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s performance among Catholic voters by seven percentage points nationally, “In six states Obama lost ground to Kerry’s Catholic vote totals of 2004,” Gray noted. “Catholics in Missouri, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, and California were less likely than Catholics in 2004 to vote for the Democratic presidential candidate.”

Continued Gray, “In both Missouri and Pennsylvania, Catholic bishops made statements, widely covered by the media, regarding the importance of life issues relative to other issues in the campaign. These statements potentially had an effect on the votes of Catholics in these states given Obama’s voting record and support for abortion. In California voters approved a ballot proposition banning same-sex marriage that was supported by California bishops. It is not possible to isolate these potential effects with the exit poll data released so far but these are potential hypothesis to explore further.”

These are only some of the interesting findings detailed in Gray’s insightful OSV article. But the figures regarding the bishops’ interventions in favor of the sanctity of life are especially timely today, as the U.S. bishops discuss at their annual fall meeting in Baltimore how they might improve their collective apostolate with respect to educating Catholics about their political responsibility to oppose abortion.

— Tom McFeely