Santorum’s Faith Isn’t Driving Vote of Catholics
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum is a proud traditional Catholic. But so far that is not helping him with Catholic voters.
Santorum has not had a significant victory among Catholic voters in any of the 10 states in which exit polls have been taken, nor has Newt Gingrich, who is also Catholic. While Santorum outpolled Mitt Romney among born-again or evangelical voters, Romney does better among Catholics, evidence that Catholics are not rallying around Santorum’s faith-based opposition to abortion and birth control.
Catholics, analysts say, are making their choices much like the Republican electorate at large - focusing on economic issues and electability. In several cases, Santorum’s support among Catholics was significantly lower than it is among the general population.
Greg Smith, a senior researcher at the Pew Forum for Religion and Public Life who analyzed the exit polls, said that Romney clearly won the Catholic vote in five states, and that the Catholic vote was divided in another four. In Arizona, it is unclear if there were enough Catholic voters for Romney’s margin of victory among them to be statistically significant.
“It’s not so much that Santorum is consistently doing worse among Catholics than he is among the electorate as a whole,” Smith said. “It’s more that he has not won the Catholic vote in any state so far, whereas Romney has done that in half the states.”
Political observers say Catholics, unlike the Mormon voters who have supported Romney or the evangelical voters who have supported Santorum, tend not to vote as one bloc. While Santorum’s strong views on prohibiting abortion and gay marriage and his personal opposition to contraception are in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church, many Catholics are less traditional and do not vote based on those issues.
“Rick Santorum is a very traditional Catholic,” said John Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron, who specializes in religion in politics. “Although Catholics who vote in Republican primaries tend to be conservative, not all of them are as traditional or as conservative as Santorum.”
Former ambassador to the Vatican and Boston mayor Raymond Flynn, who has endorsed Romney, said in an e-mail: “Catholic voters are not monolithic. Most Catholics love God, are compassionate, faithful citizens, patriotic, and, like me, are committed to human rights and equal justice for all people. Catholics, like most Americans, will vote for the person who they believe will create jobs and strengthen our economy.”
Some Catholics may have been turned off by Santorum’s comments that he “almost threw up” after reading Catholic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech on the separation of church and state.
“Attacking a Catholic icon” is not a good way for Santorum “to endear himself with those Catholic voters for whom identity actually does matter,” said Mark J. Rozell, professor of public policy at George Mason University.