The Re-emergent Bond Between Catholics and GOP

By Alex Gonzalez

 There are good news for Republicans that were not so popular in the news yet are very significant for the long-term strategic for the GOP is that at least 19 states in the nation where religion is very important for people the GOP lead in favorability.  Moreover, it also shows that the GOP and  Catholics are now building  a lasting bond,  in which  Latinos will have a great impact in the future of the Republican Party.

According to  Ronald Brownstein from the National Journal,  and based on a Gallup Report, Republicans are strongly favored in all of the 19 states that Gallup ranked as the most religious-. In this GOP-religion-region triangulation, eight of the 10 most religious states in 2011 are in the South with one straddling the line between the South and the Midwest (Oklahoma), and one in the West (Utah).  Furthermore, “the political inclination flips on the other end of the ranking. In order, Gallup ranks (as the least religious states) Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Alaska, Oregon, Nevada, Washington, Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Colorado, Delaware and New Jersey. Overall, Gallup’s findings are consistent with the long-term trend showing that the frequency of church attendance, especially among whites, has become one of the most powerful predictors of voting behavior. As I noted in my 2007 book The Second Civil War, for most of the twentieth century, political allegiance divided along lines of religious belief, with Catholics tilting Democrat and Protestants leaning Republican. Now the most important divide is religious practice; the more often someone attends religious service, the more likely they are to vote Republican, no matter their denomination. “

The other factor in this new -religion-region triangulation  is that Republican Party is becoming more Catholic.  In an Op-ed on CNN by a Timothy Stanley is a historian at Oxford University argues that “The nativism of the GOP drove Catholics into the welcoming arms of Al Smith, Jack Kennedy, Tip O’Neill and the Democratic Party.

“There was a time when the Republican Party was strictly for White Anglo Saxon Protestants.” But this year  Roughly one-quarter of Republican primary voters are Catholic. Notable Catholic GOP leaders include John Boehner, Paul Ryan, Christine O’Donnell, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. Six out of nine justices of the Supreme Court are Catholics, and five of them are Republicans. And, the GOP is undergoing a quiet process of Catholicization. It’s one of the reasons why this year’s race has focused so much on social issues.  

Moreover, part of this genuinely Catholic intellectual tradition and its ability to provide reasonable arguments to defend conservative values.  The Catholic Church had a vast intellectual heritage that could be drawn upon when fighting the liberals.”

German-American Population                                          Lutheran Population

But more importantly, in the U.S.,  ethnicity is connected to religiosity and region so in this  new GOP-religion-region triangulation Republicans can win a lot . For example,  According to Robert Putnam’s book American Grace: How Religion Divides us and unites us,  when examining the religion and demographic makeup of the nation, all the religious ethnic groups clusters in specific areas.   There is an overlapping similarities between the presence of a particular ethnic group and members of an ethnically rooted religions. This overlapping can be seen when we look at the map that showing clustering of both ethnic and religious groups.  The most visible are those who are self-identified as German-Americans and Lutherans churches. When we look at the map of the map showing a concentration of German-Americans, we can see all 8 states in the upper mid-west populated by “German.”  When we look at the population of self-identified Lutherans, 80% of the maps show the same states and counties of that self-Identity as German-Americans, where there are Germans, there Lutherans.  And this trend holds up even after many generations have passed.

Also, Putnam argues that there is strong connection between the Scott-Irish and member of the Presbyterian churches who settled in the South predominantly. Thus, there is a strong connection that can be expected between the identity of the Presbyterian church  Scott-Irish ethic  identity  in regions of the South across many states.

Catholics—Irish, Poles , and Italians—settled in mainly in industrial   states of the north east and the Catholic map shows overlapping between Italians-Americans Catholic with the greater concentration in Northeast and California.    When the map of Latino Catholics is shown the concentration mainly in the 8 states in the Southwest–from Texas to California to Nevada and Colorado—and in south Florida. Here, too, the direct  overlapping  between the Latinos population and  Catholicism is concentrated in one single continuous  region is similar to that of ethnic   German-Americans  and the Lutherans Churches in upper Midwest or the Presbyterian churches with ethnic  Scott Irish’s  in the South.

This observation by Putman underscores that there is triangulation between religion, ethnicity, and region because groups like to stay together and attend religious services in churches that they are familiar with.   But, one little known fact is that, while there has been a “white flight” in the Catholic Church for the last three decades, Latinos have been the new pillar of the Catholic Church for the last two decades.  According to Putnam, Catholics are about 25% of the US population, a proportion that has remained steady for three decades. But, American Catholicism has experienced a dramatic change.  Over the last three decades, “Anglos”—non Latinos—Catholics have been dropping out and disengaging with the Catholic Church.  During the same periods, the numbers of Latino Catholics have grown tremendously transforming the American Catholic Church.

Catholic American Population                                    Latino Catholic Population

According to Putnam, the American Catholic Church was “severely affected” in the 1960s by major reforms in Rome—the Vatican II. Thus, in recent decades as large numbers of ethnic whites Catholics (the grandchildren of early waves of white ethnic Catholics) were slipping out one door of the church, but a large number of Latinos have rushed in through another door.  Without the timely arrival of these immigrants and their offspring, the collapse of Catholic mass and Catholicism would have been stepper in America.   Thus, the combination of high losses of white ethnic Catholics, a young exodus, and low converts, the only thing that saved the Catholic Church was the arrival of Latino immigrants.  The transformation of church was so dramatic that of Catholics ages (18 to 35) 58% are Latinos, and ages (35 to 49) 34% are Latino.  This Latino presence within the Catholic Church makes it evident that the future of the church will be linked to the future of Latinos in America. And religious believes are linked to ethnicity.

Coincidently, if this trend persists and the Republican Party continuously to leads in “religious  states”–and  if the GOP is becoming more “Catholicize” with social issues— Hispanics are to become the sole bearers of the transformation of Catholic Church and the GOP  since it was the dramatic t arrival of Latino immigrants what saved Catholicism in American .

The concentration of Latinos in one particular region, and with Latinos being 75% overwhelmingly ethnically Catholic,   can strengthen the social issues agenda of the Republican Party.   Just like in the Scott-Irish in the south who vote conservative based on social values, with Catholicization  of the GOP  and the growth of the Latino ethnic  group  in the Southwest will, potentially, open the doors for news conservative base who can also used “intellectual” catholic teaching to formulate the platform of the conservative movement in the southwest.  Therefore, there can be a new  base for the future of the Republican Party because as Ron Brownstein Republicans are strongly favored in all of the 19 states that Gallup ranked as the most religious.

And even though as Stanley argues that “The nativism of the GOP drove Catholics into the welcoming arms of Al Smith, Jack Kennedy, Tip O’Neill and the Democratic Party” one-hundred years ago, Hard-liner currently may also be driving Latinos away with anti-immigrant rhetoric, once the “nativists” rhetoric among the GOP activists fades out, the connection between Latinos of Republican can be bond with under conservative social values.  Undoubtedly, Latinos will bear 75% of the pillar of the Catholic  Church.   Moreover, if in the twentieth century American, political allegiance divided along lines of religious belief, with Catholics tilting Democrat and Protestants leaning Republican. Now the most important divide is religious practice; “Latinos will have greater advantage since Latino Catholics have greater  levels of attendance than “white” Catholics. And that is good news for the GOP.

Alex Gonzalez  is a political Analyst and Political Director for Latinos Ready To Vote!  He received a Bachelors Degree and a Masters’ Degree, with emphasis in American politics,  from San Francisco State University.
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