Belden RUSSONELLO & STEWART, The View from Mainstream America: The Catholic Voter in Summer 2004. Washington, D.C.: BRS, 2004. pp. 70. No Price or ISBN Listed - pb.
Reviewed by Georgie Ann WEATHERBY, Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA 99258-0065

This reflection of 2004 Catholic voters posits the statistics presented as being "reliable indicator(s) of the attitudes and preferences of the nation as a whole concerning politics in presidential elections" (pg. 3). These are derived from a complex stratified sample (pg. 72, Appendix A). Catholic voters are depicted as a group that exemplifies the bandwagon effect. Representing one quarter of the electorate, they routinely (and without fail) support winners of the popular vote. Hence, they "present us with a snapshot of mainstream American public opinion" (pg. 3).

The report grapples with cutting-edge topics ranging from the war in Iraq to same-sex marriage, assisted suicide, stem cell research, their bishops' political involvement, and abortion. Other than the admitted oversampling of Hispanics, a cross-section of Catholics appears to be represented (total N = 2,239).

Trends to be noted include the fact that Catholics are more Hispanic and less African American than the electorate as a whole. Catholics are also more urban and northeastern, less southern, and tend more to identify themselves as members of the Democratic Party. They are more "cultural" than "religious" in their voting choices. They are pro-legalized abortion (61%), pro-choice (53%), pro-stem cell research (72%), supportive of the death penalty (71%), and somewhat in favor of physician-assisted suicide (53%). They are by and large not influenced by stands taken by their Catholic bishops (pg. 4).

While it is noted that "candidates who win the popular vote win the Catholic vote" (pg. 4), the reverse is also true (when one wins the Catholic vote, they take the nation's vote). This may be somewhat more significant to pollsters attempting to make election predictions based on limited samples.

An important finding is that the election, as of summer 2004, was in a dead heat between Kerry and Bush. Resolving the situation in Iraq will ultimately drive the Catholic vote in one direction or the other. Those who have confidence in Bush to "resolve" the war intend to vote for him. Conversely, those who have not much or very little confidence in him on this matter have pledged their votes to Kerry (pg. 5).

More specifically, the book highlights the fact that Catholics are adamant about not mixing religion and politics—70% are not in the least influenced by the views of their Catholic bishops, and disapprove of politicians being denied communion on the basis of their stands against church teaching on timely political issues (such as legalized abortion).

It is "political beliefs that are driving attitudes on the election and on issues, not attendance at Mass" (pg. 6). Political ideology is overall a better predictor. Catholic voters' highest priorities are "protecting Social Security, American jobs, and improving health care" (pg. 7). Also, concern is expressed about improving education, Medicare, moral values, and fighting crime, cutting taxes, protecting civil liberties, and protecting the environment (pg. 7).

Hispanic Catholics are younger, less educated, and have lower incomes than the Catholic population overall. While being a "large city" vote, Hispanics are in reality less likely to vote at all (pg. 8). Two issues are at the fore of Hispanic concern—improving health care and public education. On many other issues, they reflect overall Catholic sentiments (pg. 8) while being more punctuated with higher numbers, except for their reverse views on the war in Iraq. On the flip side of the 45%/54% split of Catholics overall, the majority of Hispanic Catholics want our troops in Iraq home within six months (54%) versus 44% who think they should stay as long as necessary (pp. 63-64). Hispanic women (59%) are most ardent about the undelayed return of our military. The majority of Hispanic Catholics (59%) have very little or not much confidence in Bush's ability to solve the situation. Only 19% of this population has a great deal of confidence about this issue (pg. 64).

Further regression analyses reveal the strongest predictors of the presidential vote include demographic and lifestyle characteristics. For example, those who are upper educated are Kerry voters, those who are married are more likely Bush voters (pg. 14). Frequent church goers tend to be more conservative, but when ideology enters the mix, these figures skew toward Kerry among all but the most self-identified of the right wing (pg. 16). Other areas of concern among Catholics include protecting civil liberties (24%) and protecting the environment (23%). Of all the issues presented in the survey, "the most important factor in determining how Catholics will vote in November is their confidence in President Bush's ability to resolve the conflict in Iraq" (pg. 31). As with Hispanics, this is highlighted again and again as the one predictor that overshadows all others.

A healthy 74% of Catholic voters support allowing public schools to include morning prayer in the classroom (pg. 55). A clear division between Republicans/Conservatives (for) and Democrats/Liberals (against) exists for the support of school vouchers (help paying for tuition costs in private and/or religious schools with tax revenue - pg. 56). A full 72% support the idea of stem cell research. This particular issue cuts across demographic and ideological differences—encompassing those on the far left and far right (pg. 57). Physician-assisted suicide of a terminally ill patient is supported by a slight majority (pg. 58). With the exception of Hispanics, fairly strong opposition is shown to children of illegal immigrants being allowed to attend public schools (56% opposition to 44% support).

In sum, to date the Catholic vote has reflected the values and wishes of the American people in general. Those who are as yet undecided will determine the outcome of the November 2004 presidential election. We need to follow them closely. In critiquing this piece as a whole, there are straight statistics offered with very little interpretation beyond simple demographic and ideological comparisons. Future versions (as this appears to be a work in progress) should generate predictions based on more pointed, future-directed questions. Tests of feelings on the war in Iraq come closest to this effort presently.

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