In battleground states, Catholics are a pivotal swing vote
For decades, Roman Catholic voters have been a pivotal swing vote in U.S. presidential elections, with a majority backing the winner — whether Republican or Democrat — nearly every time.
How they vote in the battleground states this year could well decide the outcome, and the rival campaigns are targeting them with fervent appeals to vote based on their faith.
Advocates for President Donald Trump say a faithful Catholic cannot vote for Democratic nominee Joe Biden because of his support for abortion rights. Critics of Trump say he is too divisive and callous to merit the vote of any faithful Catholic. The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg brings into clearer focus the chasm between the two sides.
The campaigns are competing to win over people like Jeannie French of Pittsburgh, in battleground Pennsylvania, who has struggling with her decision. She’s a member of Democrats for Life, loath to vote for Biden because of his stance on abortion, but dismayed by Republicans’ positions on climate change, immigration and economic issues.
Just a week ago, French, a real estate consultant who volunteers at church, hadn’t made up her mind and was considering voting for a third-party candidate. Now, with the Supreme Court vacancy, she’s leaning toward Trump, who pledges to nominate a conservative woman.
“A vote for Trump will mean that I need to work even harder for fair wages, environmental issues, penal reform, immigrant care and other social concerns, but it also means that we get the opportunity to get things right on abortion as a nation,” French said via email. “For this Catholic, it might just be the right call.”
Biden, a practicing Catholic who carries a Rosary, would be just the second Catholic president after John F. Kennedy. Trump, who identifies as Presbyterian, is an infrequent churchgoer.
In several battleground states including Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida, over 20% of adults are Catholic. Trump won all three in 2016, but recent polls show Biden with modest leads in each.
“The swinging portion of the Catholic vote swings more than other voting segments — that’s the target-rich segment,” said Brian Burch, president of the conservative advocacy group CatholicVote.org.
Burch believes Trump appeals to these voters, based on his anti-abortion policies and support for “school choice” that might benefit families preferring Catholic schools. On Tuesday, CatholicVote.org announced a $9.7 million campaign targeting battleground Catholics.
Several other groups are wooing these voters, including Catholics for Trump, whose advisory board includes former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Catholics for Biden, launched Sept. 3.
Among those addressing the online launch was Sister Simone Campbell, who heads the Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice. This year the network will again mount a nationwide Nuns on the Bus campaign with virtual events targeting battleground states.