Catholic faith affects voters differently

Nov 4, 2012

As Election Day approaches, is there such a thing as a catholic vote?  Catholics make up a quarter of the voting electorate, but they don't vote in lockstep.  Roman Catholic teachings can take a Catholic voter to both ends of the political spectrum.

In a video on the Syracuse Diocese website, Bishop Robert Cunningham explains the Roman Catholic concept of “faithful citizenship,” which calls participation in political life a moral obligation.  The church does not endorse candidates, but offers voters a list of Catholic teachings and where they fall regarding political issues. These teachings don't neatly all fit in one political party or the other. So voters must decide which doctrine is most important for them.   

Suzanne Davidson of Fayetteville has been a Catholic all her life. She tries to make political decisions based on moral convictions without looking at party affiliation   And it is the doctrine of the right to life and the dignity of the human person that rules her decisions.

"There's a fundamental right in our country, and it's the right to life. And without that right, all other rights are unimportant.  I think that has to be the foundation,” said Davidson. “I believe there are many ways to help and support the poor, but when you make no room for the unborn, I really have a hard time supporting anyone who has no room for the unborn."

That generally puts her in the Republican camp and she is supporting the Romney-Ryan ticket this year.

Dave Pasinaski, another lifelong Catholic from Fayetteville, also considers his faith when making a political decision. He chooses to make Catholic social teachings and the obligations to the poor the basis for his vote.  And he says that sometimes conflicts with those life issues, specifically abortion.

"What is gonna work in this culture, what really is gonna help enable people to have a choice around a better life for themselves, or an unborn child?  And the policies, are the policies gonna help, and that's what I think oftentimes. Persons I would support, generally along Democratic platform issues, do help those who need to be supported," said Pasinaski.

This split is common among Catholics across the country, which makes the Catholic vote anything from a solid block, according to LeMoyne College religious studies chairman Fred Glennon.

“When you think about the Catholic vote you are talking about a couple of different perspectives -- the social justice perspective, what we call the preferential for the poor perspective; and the other one being the kind of social issue perspective, in which those Catholics tend to have more in common with evangelical or Protestant traditions," said Glennon.

And that split is reflected in a recent Public Religious Research Institute poll, which showed divided support for presidential candidates – 49 percent preferring President Barack Obama and 47 percent preferring Republican Mitt Romney.  

Glennon also points out how the Catholic vote has changed over the years, with ethnic urban Catholics generally supporting Democrats years ago, but now that's changed, 

"As Catholics have become more mainstream, more economically wealthy and risen up the ranks in that regard.  And also now when you think in terms of Catholicity, you have so many from south of the border, who tend to be a bit more conservative on social issues," he said.

Glennon says Catholics also use more than their religion to make decisions.

"Those pocketbook issues, and the ideology and framework for shaping that, is going to influence them as much as the catholic perspective," said Glennon.

For pro-life Catholic Davidson, the Catholic divide is evident every week at mass...

"I find fellow Catholics I love and adore who sit right next to me in the pews and have an Obama sign on their front lawn," she said.

And pro-choice Pasinaski has had discussions with pro-life Catholics, although no one changed their mind.

"We had a good sharing and it was respectful, and there was some common ground, although on the legislative level we probably would end up voting for different candidates."