Did the bishops’ political messages influence the vote of their flock?

Election Day has (thankfully) come and gone, and we now know for certain that President Barack Obama will serve four more years in office. So now that the "who will win?" speculation is out of the way, analysts are hard at work on explaining why the vote went the way it did.

It is no secret that the Catholic bishops have been highly critical of President Obama during the past year through initiatives like the "Fortnight for Freedom" and their participation in direct lawsuits against the administration. We've heard all kinds of messages on who Catholics should vote for and some in the church had not been shy about openly endorsing Republican candidate Mitt Romney. But did it make a difference on Election Day?

According to Reuters and the Pew Forum, the answer is no. As they did in 2008 (and as many told us they would in a U.S. Catholic reader survey earlier this year), Catholics still supported Barack Obama, albeit by a slightly lower margin. This year, according to Pew Forum, 50 percent of Catholic voters chose to reelect the current president, compared to 54 percent who voted for Obama in 2008.

The biggest difference seems to be that white Catholics were more likely to vote Republican this year (up to 59 percent from 52 percent in 2008) while Hispanic Catholics strongly supported President Obama (75 percent in 2012, up from 72 percent in 2008). Reuters reports similar numbers, with 76 percent of Hispanic Catholics favoring Obama and 56 percent of white Catholics backing Romney.

So why didn't Catholics heed the bishops' warning that the president was "declaring war" on the church or trying to destroy religious freedom? Hispanic Catholics mirrored the Latino vote in general, strongly supporting Obama because they are likely more concerned with policies on immigration and the economy than the issues the bishops have focused on. For Catholic voters in general, the economy was also the most likely issue in determining their vote. Perhaps they hadn't even been paying attention to the church's position on the election at all.

I'd be curious to see a geographical breakdown of Catholic voters to know if those bishops who took stronger stances against Obama (like Peoria, Illinois Bishop Daniel Jenky, who had priests read a letter at all Masses the Sunday before the election) made a more significant difference. But on the whole, the message from Catholics is clear: No matter how political the church's leaders may become, we aren't all going to come to the same conclusions when we cast our vote.

About the author

Scott Alessi

Scott Alessi is a former managing editor of U.S. Catholic.