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Which GOP Candidate Will Catholic Conservatives Choose?
Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux,

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Flickr

We’ve been writing so much about white evangelical Protestants recently that you might be forgiven for thinking that they’re the only religious subgroup that politicians (at least, the candidates in the race for the GOP nomination) care about. Over at Time’s Swampland blog, Amy Sullivan asks a great question: have we been focusing so hard on white evangelicals that we’ve forgotten about Catholic Republicans? After all, they comprise about one-quarter of the GOP primary electorate, and there are two Catholics, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, in the running.

So why don’t GOP candidates seem to be worrying about conservative Catholics?  Perhaps it’s because none of the candidates seem quite right for them. Sullivan knocks off the candidates one by one, dismissing Romney and Cain because of their muddled stances on abortion, and concludes that Rick Perry may be conservative Catholics’ “default candidate of choice.”

But a look at the data shows that Catholic Republicans actually care more about immigration than they do about abortion. Certainly, the issues that Sullivan mentions are important issues for many conservative Catholics, but they may not be any more decisive than a candidate’s stance on immigration. She concludes that for conservative pro-life Catholics, Perry may be the only choice. Conservative Catholics may be repelled by his moderate stance on immigration, though. For example,

  • Over 4-in-10 Catholic Republicans (43%) say that abortion is “not that important” of an issue.
  • A majority of Catholic Republicans (53%) say that same-sex marriage is “not that important” of an issue.
  • Catholic Republicans are far more likely than white evangelicals to say that if their church began to allow blessings of gay and lesbian couples, they would keep attending (65% compared to 32%).

On the other hand, half of Republican Catholics say that the issue of immigration is a critical issue, and only 16% say that it is not that important. And Republican Catholics are significantly more conservative on this issue than the general public or Catholics overall. Roughly 6-in-10 Catholic Republicans say that we should make a serious effort to deport all undocumented immigrants back to their home country, which suggests that they would not find Rick Perry’s position very appealing.

It’s hard to know which candidate Catholic Republicans will support. But it may be a stretch to assume that they will write off Herman Cain and Mitt Romney because of their positions on abortion. Indeed, among the Catholics who care a lot about immigration, Herman Cain, who recently got flak for over-zealously suggesting an electrified border fence, could be an equally viable choice.