Spanish – If one analyzes the results of the last U.S. elections, it turns out that the majority vote of Catholics was the factor that “tipped the balance.” Three times for the Democrats, twice for the Republicans. This is demonstrated by the polls conducted by the Pew Research Center.
In 2016, for example, 52% of Catholics supported Republican Donald Trump versus 44% who voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton. In 2008, however, Catholics preferred Democrat Barack Obama over Republican John McCain by a margin of 54% to 45%.
As Gerardo Lissardy points out for BBC News Mundo, “different factors have given religion an unusual prominence in this latest campaign.
“Right now, all professional politicians are very aware that the Catholic vote is mobile. It is persuasive to a greater extent than other groups,” Andrew Walsh, associate director of the Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College in Connecticut, told BBC Mundo.
In this respect, the already mentioned Gerardo Lissardy qualifies: “In turn, these Catholic voters can be divided into two large subgroups: Latinos, with special weight in states like Arizona or Florida, and whites, more numerous in states like Michigan or Wisconsin.”
Percentages at stake
Out of a total of 1329 million Catholics dispersed throughout the world, more than half live on the American continent. The most significant percentages are, obviously, in Latin America. And it is precisely Latino migrants, especially Mexicans, who have also increased the number of Catholics living (and voting) in the United States today.
And according to Pew Research polls, if 59% of “Caucasian” Catholics supported Trump’s candidacy, an even greater number of “Hispanic” Catholics, 65%, did so for Biden.
Opposition to Abortion as a Focus of the Campaign
Identifying with traditional family values, Trump participated in “marches for life” and advocated for reform of the Family Planning Services Act so that federal funds would not go to entities that perform abortions.
Furthermore, he appointed the fervent anti-abortionist Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court to fill the seat left vacant by the death of her predecessor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
But it seems that the issue of abortion, virtually the only campaign issue for Donald Trump’s team aimed at capturing the Catholic vote, was not so decisive after all in seducing voters.
In fact, according to the latest available polls from 2019, 61% of the American population believes that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and only 37% believe that it should be illegal in all or most cases.
And interestingly enough, the only religious group that predominantly holds that abortion should be strictly illegal is that of white evangelical Protestants. In the specific case of Catholics, 52% believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. The same is true for all other groups.
What were the tactics deployed by the Democrat to win over the Catholic vote?
First, the campaign emphasized the candidate’s Irish Catholic background. And while generating empathy for his willingness to transcend family tragedies, he stated: “I found that the best way to overcome loss and grief is to find purpose: as children of God, each of us has a purpose in life.”
Secondly, it is not possible to avoid the biblical, almost messianic, stamp with which some of his speeches were written. “I give you my word: If you entrust me with the presidency, I will draw on the best of us, not the worst. I will be an ally of the light, not of the darkness… Love is more powerful than hate. Hope is more powerful than fear. Light is more powerful than dark.”
In similar terms, campaign ads referred to Pope John Paul II: “I believe that we will be guided by the words of St. John Paul II, words from the Scriptures: do not be afraid, do not be afraid.”
Biden also had the support of the Jesuits. This was evident in America magazine’s recovery of a 1980 chronicle that evoked a long 45-minute conversation between John Paul II and then-young U.S. Senator Joe Biden.
Groups such as Believers for Biden were formed as internal teams to work on the Latino vote. And so-called “Nuns on a Bus” literally toured the country campaigning for him.
Biden showed himself to be totally aligned with the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church, particularly with regard to immigration policy. Trump’s, by contrast, had been expressly condemned, both by the U.S. Bishops’ Conference and by Pope Francis himself.
Also, in line with the Church’s position, Biden proposed measures to reverse “global warming” by a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energies. And we know that Trump preferred to withdraw the country from the Paris Agreement because he considered it harmful to the economy.
Biden’s Achilles Heel and Trump’s Catholic Chips
The Democrats’ Achilles’ heel about the Catholic vote was in the appointment of Kamala Harris as a running mate, particularly about her strong stance in favor of liberalization of abortion legislation. And it is on this issue that Trump was able to win over a section of the Catholic vote.
Pope Francis also sent a pretty clear message by officially appointing, shortly before the election, the first Black cardinal in the United States, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, a staunch critic of Trump.
The second after Kennedy
Nevertheless, in January, the United States will welcome its forty-sixth president. If Joe Biden is confirmed as the overall winner of the election, he will be the second Catholic President after John Kennedy.
This is how the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Archbishop of Los Angeles, José Horacio Gómez, has chosen to congratulate him, recognizing that the Democratic candidate “joins the late President John F. Kennedy as the second President of the United States to profess the Catholic faith.”
For the moment, Joe Biden is the candidate projected by the media as the winner of the election, according to statistics that point to that probability. However, the count has not been completed in Arizona, Georgia, and Alaska. Additionally, President Donald Trump contested the election in the first two, as well as in Nevada and Pennsylvania, on Monday. On December 12, state electors will cast their votes so that they can then officially announce a president-elect even if the battle in the judicial arena continues.