TAG | Catholicism
Norman Podhortez just came out with a book, Why Are Jews Liberals?. It seems that this as intellectually interesting as writing a book, “Why are blacks Democrats?”, would be. You can tick off specific reasons, but in ethnic terms American liberalism and the Democratic party is a minoritarian coalition. To some extent it has been true since the recruitment of the Irish in the urban North in the early 19th century as allies with the outnumbered partisans of slave power. In fact The American Jewish Identity Survey tells us that once Jews become Christian, they aren’t so liberal. Here are the percentage of Republicans by Jewish subgroup:
Jews by ethnic origin & religion – 13%
Jews by ethnic origin, irreligious – 13%
Jewish by ethnic origin, “Other religion,” which is mostly Christian – 40%
Jews of other religion are also less intelligent than the other two groups, 36% college graduates vs. 57% for Jews who are religious and irreligious.
In any case, if Norman Podhoretz wants Jews to become Republican, he should encourage conversion to Christianity. Specifically, Protestant Christianity. Look what rock-ribbed Republicans Jim Talent and Marvin Olasky became. And don’t even talk about Howard Phillips, he wants to bring back to the inquisition for idolaters and pagans!
But I come not to talk of Jews, but of Catholics. As I said, the rise of the Democratic party as we know it was to a great extent concomitant with the first waves of Irish Catholic immigrants to Northern cities. The historical details of this are well known, so I won’t go into it, but to some extent the ties still are operative. According to the exit polls, last fall Barack Obama won 47% of white Catholics. He only won 34% of white Protestants! This is still a large difference.
Some of this might be accounted for my region and ethnicity (e.g., Italians and Northeasterners are more likely to be Catholic). So I looked in the GSS. There’s a variable “ETHNIC,” which asks where one’s ancestors came from. I wanted to look at a few groups, especially ones where the sample size wasn’t too small, and where there were likely to be Catholics and Protestants. So
1) French, who are those whose ancestors come from French Canada or France
2) German, whose ancestors come from German or Austria
3) British, whose ancestors are from England, Wales or Scotland
4) Mexican, whose ancestors come from Mexico
5) American Indian, whose ancestors come from Mother Earth’s union with Coyote
Some of these groups, such as Germans, had Protestant and Catholic cohorts from the beginning. By contrast, Mexican Americans have a large Protestant contingent through conversion (though some indigenous immigrants from Chiapas were converted in Mexico). American Indians were targeted by both Protestants and Catholics. Finally, though Huguenots have been prominent in the American aristocracy (Franklin Delano Roosvelt’s mother was a Huguenot, as were the ancestors of many Southern low country planters), I assume most Protestant French Americans arrived at their religion through conversion on these shores.
I also limited the sample to 1992 and later to have some contemporary relevance.
Then I compared these classes to two categories, political ideology and political party. I created an “index” of liberalism and Democratic orientation, so that I simply multiplied the frequency in each class by an integer. Ergo:
Index of liberalism = (% liberal) X 2 + (% moderate) X 1 + (% conservative) X 0
Index of Demo orientation = (% Democrat) X 2 + (% Independent) X 1 + (% Republican) X 0
So an index of liberalism of 1 means perfect balance, while below 1 means somewhat conservative, and above 1 means somewhat liberal (2 being all liberal). The same for Democrats. Then I took the ratio of Catholics to Protestants by their indices.
I have a post up at ScienceBlogs noting the erosion in numbers among American Catholics part of a general shift away from institutional religion.
As Bradlaugh pointed out below to some extent abortion has become a litmus test which separates the American Left from the Right in the minds of many. Conservative evangelical Christians generally believe that the fundamentals of their faith compel them to support the anti-abortion cause (see this commenter). Historian James T. McGreevy tells another story in Catholicism and American Freedom: A History:
Evangelical Protestants generally ignored the issue until the late 1970s. A group of prominent evangelicals, in fact, cautiously endorsed abortion law reform in 1968, and the Southern Baptist Convention leadership made halting steps in the same direction in the 1970s. When the news service for the Southern Baptist Convention reported the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade., the first sentence, describing the decision as advancing the cause of “religious liberty,” seemed directed at Catholics arrogant enough to presume that their own views should be law.
Remember that Ronald Reagan signed a bill which loosened abortion laws in California in the late 1960s. George H. W. Bush had supported abortion rights until 1980, and his father had close ties to Planned Parenthood. This is not to say that I deny that those who oppose abortion do so sincerely. Rather, my point is that the “Culture Wars” which we see around us today may seem clear, distinct, and natural, but their shape was far different even a generation back. The flip side of this is that many atheists can not understand how one could be pro-life and atheist, but I would offer that to a great extent this too is an expression of the evolution of a group identity and coalitional politics. There are prominent atheists such as Nat Hentoff & Christopher Hitchens, who oppose abortion rights.
Update: Tom Piatak points out that Hitchens is not pro-life, despite reservations about abortion. The perception that Hitchens is pro-life probably emerges from a column in The Nation where he proposed women given up the right to abortion in exchange to for a cradle-to-grave welfare state.