By John Russonello and Kate Stewart
The 2004 election continued a longstanding truism of American presidential politics: the candidate who wins the most Catholic voters also wins the most votes across the nation.
The Catholic vote in the United States has been one of the most reliable blocks of swing voters in the presidential election. Catholic voters represent a quarter of the total electorate and have switched their preference from one party's candidate for president to another's as times change. In every presidential election for the last thirty years, the candidate that wins the Catholic vote has also won the popular vote. Exit polls document that Catholics voted mostly for Nixon, Carter, Reagan (twice), Bush senior and Clinton (also twice). In 2000, Democrat Al Gore, who narrowly won the popular vote, also eked out a victory among Catholics (49% to 47% for George W. Bush). In 2004, the 25% of the electorate identifying as the Catholic vote preferred Republican President Bush 52% to 47% for John Kerry.
The Catholic vote has been a near-perfect microcosm of the American vote because most Catholics do not choose a presidential candidate based on one or two specific social issues. Like most Americans, Catholics vote according to which candidate they believe will improve their economic security, their health coverage and their children's educational opportunities and will keep them safe from harm. They represent a suburban-urban middle class vote that reflects the voting preference of the nation more accurately than any other segment over the last three decades.
John Russonello and Kate Stewart are partners in the public opinion research and strategic communications firm Belden Russonello Strategists in Washington.