Election watch: Catholic swing?

My husband laughs at political reporters who act like election night is the hardest night of the year because of the tight deadlines. As a designer and copy editor on the sports desk, election night is nothing compared to Green Bay Packer game days. That said, the Wisconsin races will be interesting, since more television ads aired between Russ Feingold and Ron Johnson in September than in any Senate or House race in the country.

As individual Senate and House races remain up for grabs, reporters look for broad trends to take the country's pulse. Key coalitions that voted for President Obama may vote Republican, according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll.

Much of the election attention seems focused on women, especially with the number of high-profile races featuring female candidates. The Times reports that if women choose Republicans in House elections, it will be the first time since exit polls looked at the breakdown between sexes in 1982. This could be an important historical switch and worthy of coverage, but the poll's accompanying story then focused primarily on women with only a brief mention of the Catholic swing. Click into this graph, though. Yes, that's a potential 34-point swing for Catholic voters from Democratic to Republican in two years.

Remember that tmatt wrote about the expected Catholic vote in 2008, offering four different kinds of Catholics to consider: ex-catholics, cultural catholics, Sunday-morning american catholics, and the "sweats the details" Roman Catholic. So this group is hard to categorize, especially when you add region, age, ethnicity and socioeconomic status.

But this poll suggests 62 percent of Catholics say they will vote Republican in the upcoming midterm elections while 38 percent said they were voting Democratic, leaving a significant 24-point gap. Here's Joseph Bottum's prediction in the conservative Weekly Standard.

Catholic voters this year will likely break the way the rest of the nation breaks: Hispanic Catholics in one direction, white ethnic Catholics in another; Southern Catholics trending one way, Northern Catholics a slightly different way. Just drop the word Catholic, and you'll have a reasonable idea where their votes will go. And in the remaining days of the campaign, the Catholic church itself will surely be attacked for even the least gesture of interest in the issues of the campaign, though none of that will actually matter politically.

But the vocabulary of Catholicism, that way of bringing religiously grounded moral claims into the public square, and doing so nonreligiously: It's simply here in American electoral politics. Here in 2010, and for a good long while to come.

There will be no lack of election coverage, but between the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, the tea party movement, and the shift in women's voting patterns, political reporters could easily overlook some interesting religion angles. Hopefully we'll see some reporters pay attention to these numbers.

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