Santorum and the Catholic Vote, Revisited

I thought we were all straight on this, but there is was again: across Twitter, and at some MSM sites as well, there was amazement last night that Rick Santorum was losing Catholics in OH, and fresh speculation that his fairly recent dissing of JFK was losing him not only Catholics but a chance at the nomination.

So it’s worth saying again: in every state where there has been entry or exit polling, Santorum has “lost” the Catholic vote from the very beginning, and in fact, has performed more poorly among Catholics than among Protestants. The JFK thing may not have helped, but it was happening well before that.

In those same states, moreover, Mitt Romney has finished first among Catholics everywhere other than in SC, where Gingrich edged him out (in GA, for example, where Newt won big overall, Mitt beat him among Catholics 38/34, with Santorum taking 21%. Meanwhile, Newt won half the Protestant vote, with Santorum edging Mitt in that category).

Santorum’s voting base is white evangelical Protestants, a category that happens to overlap signicantly with three other demographics where he does well: “very conservative” voters, Tea Party supporters, and voters from rural and exurban areas. Romney does best among moderate and “somewhat conservative” voters, and urban/suburban voters, and best we can tell, Catholics voting in Republican primaries tend to be more urban and relatively moderate ideologically.

I hope no one will be surprised when the same pattern emerges next time we are staring at exit polls.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.