The Common Good
October 2004

Beyond Primary Colors

by Rose Marie Berger, Brian Bolton | October 2004

Is the church, like the country, divided into

When Magic Johnson,

As you watch Republican and Democratic attempts to reach out to Catholic voters, you can imagine that some clever political strategist has secretly divided us into "Red Catholics" and "Blue Catholics," the current nomenclature for our polarized citizenry.

If political strategists have yet to coin some new buzzword, it’s not for a lack of interest in the Catholic voter. During a presidential election year when campaign teams have targeted religious groups as if something beyond four years of earthly rewards were at stake, Catholic votes have become among the hottest electoral commodities. Republicans and Democrats both realize what one recent poll has only reinforced: Catholics serve as an "indicator of presidential preferences for the entire nation." The candidate who persuaded the most Catholics to choose him won every presidential election from Nixon in 1972 to Clinton in 1996.

The idea that such a stark division in Catholic America exists as it does in the rest of the country might have some merit. According to a recent poll, 40 percent of Catholics will vote for Bush, 40 percent for Kerry, and the rest remain undecided.

I’ve been working the past few months with about a dozen Catholic colleges across the country to encourage a more informed debate on the relationship between Catholic ethics and political issues during this presidential election year. In my travels, I have certainly come across "Red Catholics," or people of faith who are likely to regard criminalizing abortion as their top political priority and are probable Bush supporters. At the same time, I have encountered "Blue Catholics," or people of faith who usually prioritize a more just economy, improved health care, and a foreign policy committed to peace and just trade.

Despite the perception of a rigidly polarized electorate, the country is not divided into two unalterable political camps. When you look at the voting patterns in states precinct by precinct, you don’t see a straight sea of red or blue, but a collage of colors that indicates how diverse states still are. And the minds of Catholic voters are as nuanced as our political map.

Polls show that Catholics are actually a pragmatic bunch with a diverse set of opinions. While most Catholics would say they’re against abortion, most also view protecting the country against terrorism, resolving the war in Iraq, and economic issues as far more important to this election than whether a candidate is pro-choice or pro-life.

On one of my trips this year, I spoke with a Catholic college student who, like many Catholics, says she feels politically "homeless" because of her pro-life and pro-social justice perspective. She laments the fact that she feels she must identify wholly and unquestionably with "one side" in a war of primary colors and expresses a growing political disaffection.

Catholics across the country might disagree on issues, but the majority are not fundamentally divided by a political worldview. Many are frustrated with both of the political parties and with the media’s increasingly narrow treatment of issues. They’re not "red" and "blue" at all. Most are united in their desire for a more substantive debate on faith and politics. —Greg Mancini

Greg Mancini, who founded Responsible Citizenship (www. responsiblecitizenship.org) earlier this year, started graduate studies at Harvard Divinity School this fall.

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