Catholics are often identified as a major “swing” voting group in American politics.1 In recent presidential elections Catholics have made up roughly a quarter of the electorate, and, indeed, they have been closely divided between the two parties.
But a new analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life shows that most subgroups of American Catholics have reliably voted either Republican or Democratic. White Catholics who identify themselves as politically conservative have consistently voted for Republican candidates in recent elections. And white Catholics who identify themselves as political liberals have consistently voted for Democrats, as have Hispanic Catholics and other Catholic minorities.
The only group of Catholics that has been divided in recent elections is white Catholics who identify as moderates; they were closely divided in both 2000 and 2004 before swinging strongly in the Democratic direction in 2008. So far in 2012, there has been little drop-off in support for the Democrats among this group. In Pew Research Center polling conducted so far this year, about half of white Catholic moderates identify themselves as Democrats or say they lean toward the Democratic Party (51%), while 39% prefer the GOP.