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ELECTION-ANALYSIS Nov-9-2004 (1,000 words) xxxn

End of 'Catholic vote'? Other categories may predict election better

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The "Catholic vote" sought with such determination in this year's presidential race went to President George W. Bush by about the same margin the rest of the country voted for him.

As they study results from this year's election, analysts are suggesting that the frequency with which people go to church may be a better predictor of how people vote than their religious affiliation.

In programs around Washington in the days following the Nov. 2 election, political scientists, pollsters and journalists exercised a little 20/20 hindsight in explaining who voted how this year. Among the common themes of the sessions were the exit poll finding that "moral values" was the most important issue for voters and Bush's stronger support among those who attend church most frequently.

Exit polling done for The Associated Press and television networks by Edison Media Research/Mitofsky International, found that 52 percent of Catholics voted for Bush and 47 percent voted for Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts. Bush was elected with 51 percent of the popular vote, compared to Kerry's 48 percent.

"The idea that there is a Catholic vote was simply not borne out in this election," said John K. White, political science professor and head of the Life Cycle Institute at The Catholic University of America, in a Nov. 4 program. "The gap seems to be between regular attendance at church and less regular attendance."

In Florida, a significantly higher percentage of all Catholics voted for Bush than did the general electorate. There the overall vote was 52 percent for Bush and 47 percent for Kerry, but 57 percent of Catholics voted for Bush, compared to 42 percent for Kerry.

In other closely contested states, Catholics supported Bush by about the same margin as residents of their states overall, with perhaps a 1-percentage-point advantage given to Bush. That was the case in Ohio, where the 51 percent of the total vote was for Bush, and 52 percent of Catholics supported him, a difference that falls within the margin of error for the poll.

Kerry got the votes of a majority of Catholics in Minnesota, although by a slightly lower percentage than the rest of the residents of the state supported him. Minnesota overall went for Kerry by a margin of 51 percent to 48 percent. Catholics in the state supported Kerry by a margin of 50 percent to 49 percent.

But in New Mexico and Missouri, a greater percentage of Catholics voted for Kerry than did the state's voters overall. In New Mexico, Bush won by a margin of 50 percent to 49 percent overall. Catholics voted for Kerry there by a margin of 61 percent to 38 percent. Missouri voters went for Bush by 53 percent to 46 percent. Among Missouri Catholics, the vote was 50 percent for Bush and 49 percent for Kerry.

White said with a few exceptions differences in lifestyle such as whether one is married or single, whether one has children or not, and cultural choices such as what sort of movies one sees are more useful in predicting how people will vote than are classic polling breakdowns by religion or ethnic group.

In this election, people of all faiths who go to church more than once a week -- 16 percent of voters -- voted for Bush by a margin of 64 percent to 35 percent. Those who described their church attendance as weekly -- 26 percent of voters -- voted for Bush by a margin of 58 percent to 41 percent.

Those who attend church monthly -- 14 percent of voters -- voted for Bush by a margin of 50 percent to 49 percent. Those who said they go a few times a year -- 28 percent of voters -- supported Kerry by a margin of 54 percent to 45 percent. People who said they never go to church -- 15 percent -- supported Kerry by a margin of 62 percent to 36 percent.

Analysts at the sessions pointed out that although news stories focused on the response that "moral values" was important to more voters than any other issue it isn't so clear what exactly people meant by that answer.

"Moral values means something different to everyone in this room," said Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio in a post-election discussion at Georgetown University's Law Center Nov. 5. "It's more an all-encompassing catchphrase than anything."

"Moral values" was one response in a list of possible responses to exit pollsters. The largest group, 22 percent, picked moral values as their most important issue. Of those voters, 80 percent voted for Bush. The next most commonly picked issue was economy/jobs, which was chosen by 20 percent of voters, 80 percent of whom voted for Kerry. Other options on the list included: terrorism and taxes, both chosen by more Bush voters. Iraq, health care and education were all chosen by more Kerry voters as their top priority.

Postelection polling still being analyzed could reveal more about what people meant when they talked about moral values.

Some preliminary data of a poll done by Zogby International for Pax Christi USA asked people which moral issue most influenced their vote. Nationally, the largest number said the war in Iraq, at 42 percent of respondents overall and 41percent of Catholic respondents. "Other" was the next most-chosen category nationally, followed by abortion, named by 12.8 percent overall and 17.2 percent of Catholics.

Fabrizio and Democratic pollster Douglas Schoen said the polls they had been doing throughout the campaign had a similar list including moral values and neither of them was surprised by the exit poll outcome.

Despite that, Schoen said the Democratic Party never really took advantage of data reflecting voter interest in values to use moral terms in describing the party's core issues such as caring for the poor, health care and protecting the environment.

"The Democrats have to do what the Bush-Cheney campaign did," Schoen said. "Frame social issues in values terms."


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