". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Abortion Extremism Driving Catholics away from Democratic Party

November 29, 2023

A new study is showing that Catholics have been abandoning the Democratic Party as the political faction increasingly embraces abortion extremism. According to data collected and analyzed by Ryan Burge, research director at Faith Counts, the past 50 years have seen white Catholics leaving the Democratic Party and beginning to coalesce around the GOP.

In 1972, for example, 67% of white Catholics were Democrats and only 21% were Republicans, according to data from the General Social Survey. By 2021, only 36% of white Catholics were aligned with the Democratic Party, while white Catholics registered as Republicans more than doubled, rising to 44%. Additionally, white Catholics registered as independent voters rose from 12% in 1972 to 20% in 2021, although Burge noted that “a huge portion of independent white Catholics vote for the Republicans at the ballot box.”

The American National Election Study, however, shows statistics for presidential elections dating back to 1960 and, in chronological context, reveals how the Democrats’ abortion advocacy has driven Catholics away from the party. In 1960, an unsurprising 82% of white Catholics voted for the first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, a Democrat. Four years later, a still-substantial 78% voted for Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson. The share of white Catholics who voted for Democrat and vice president Hubert Humphrey in 1968 dropped to 60% and has never recovered. In 1972, a year before the U.S. Supreme Court found a “right” to abortion in the Constitution, a surprising 63% of white Catholics voted for Republican Richard Nixon, with only 37% voting for Democratic Senator George McGovern as president.

Roe v. Wade and the advent of broadscale, legalized abortion were a watershed moment for Catholics politically. Up until that point, Catholics had been able to appreciate the Democratic Party’s support for the poor and the working class, as well as the party’s general liberalism — that is, liberalism as a political philosophy apart from “leftism.”

But in 1968, five years before Roe, Pope Paul VI published his encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” which expressly condemned abortion, as well as contraception and sex outside of marriage. In response, Catholic bishops, especially in America, began preparing to combat abortion politically. In 1972, the year before the Roe decision, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) founded the National Right to Life Committee and, anticipating the Supreme Court’s eventual decision, prepared pro-life efforts across the nation, including an appeal to Congress to invalidate Roe and bar any state or federal legislature from ever legalizing abortion.

The Catholic Church has, from antiquity, been a staunch, outspoken, and unwavering opponent of abortion. Mary Szoch, a Catholic and the director of the Center for Human Dignity at Family Research Council, explained to The Washington Stand, “The Catholic Church has always been opposed to the evil practice of abortion. Prior to the Supreme Court ruling in 1973 removing protections for the unborn, the Catholic Church affirmed again in ‘Humanae Vitae’ that abortion is a grave evil. After 1973, every pope has spoken out against abortion…” The Church’s incontrovertible opposition to abortion, coupled with the sudden necessity of dealing with abortion on a national scale and the Democratic Party’s increasingly vociferous promotion of abortion, drove Catholics away from the party they had once bolstered.

This trend has only intensified as the Democratic Party’s abortion extremism has. According to data from the Cooperative Election Study, white Catholics have favored Republican candidates in the past four presidential elections consecutively, and by increasingly wide margins. As Burge noted, “It was 13 points in 2008, 16 points in 2012, 18 points in 2016 and 19 points in 2020. If anything, the data says that the white Catholic voter is becoming just a bit redder with each passing election.”

Meanwhile, an NBC News poll published last week found that nearly a quarter of Democrats are single-issue pro-abortion voters. When asked “if any one issue is so important that it would determine their support for or against a candidate,” 24% of Democrats responded in support of abortion, compared to 23% of Democrats who responded in support of “protecting democracy or constitutional rights.” This comes as members of the Democratic Party have enshrined abortion in state constitutions throughout the country, attempted to enmesh the military with abortion, and consistently refused to set limits on abortion.

Szoch clarified, “A Catholic cannot be pro-abortion and in good standing with the Catholic Church. As the Democratic Party has shifted to make abortion their party’s flagship issue, it is challenging to think that there is a place in the Democratic Party for Catholics.” She continued, “As the Democratic Party has shifted from being the party who looked out for the weak and the vulnerable to the party that oppresses and destroys the weak and the vulnerable, more and more Catholics are recognizing they cannot vote for someone advancing legislation in direct conflict with their commitment to following Christ.”

In comments to The Washington Stand, pro-life activist and Catholic Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, explained, “One of the reasons I was drawn to learn the teachings of Catholicism was because of the Church’s fearless and timeless defense of the least of these. It’s unbelievably offensive to see self-described Catholics such as President Biden and Nancy Pelosi try and justify the Democratic Party’s obsession with abortion by misusing faith.”

She added, “Every poll says that abortion without limits is not what most Americans want, and, as the Democratic Party leadership has reworked their entire party’s agenda to prioritize abortion, it’s no surprise that practicing Catholics are leaving that party behind.”

In his statistical analysis, Burge noted that the more often Catholics attend Mass, the more likely they are to vote Republican. Among self-described Catholics who “never” attend Mass, 56% voted Republican in 2016 and 55% in 2020. Those numbers remain almost identical for self-described Catholics who attend Mass “seldom” or “yearly,” but rise among Catholics who attend Mass more regularly. Among those who attend Mass “monthly,” 55% voted Republican in 2016 and 62% voted Republican in 2020. Among those who attend Mass “weekly,” 64% voted Republican in both 2016 and 2020. And among those who attend Mass once a week or more, 73% voted Republican in both 2016 and 2020.

These findings are in line with other studies conducted on the subject. For example, a 2022 Pew Research Center survey found that among self-described Catholics who attend Mass less than once a week, only 34% favor abortion restrictions, while 49% favor abortion being “legal in most cases” and 16% favor abortion being “legal in all cases, no exceptions.” Among Catholics who attend Mass at least once a week, however, only 4% say abortion should be “legal in all cases, no exceptions,” while 26% say abortion should be “legal in most cases” and 68% say abortion should be illegal, including 24% who say it should be “illegal in all cases, no exceptions.” Among those who attend the Tridentine Mass (the form of the Mass celebrated in Latin and in widespread use before the Second Vatican Council) only 1% say they approve of abortion.

The Catholic trend towards political conservatism is noticeable in the priesthood, too. A recent survey published by the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. found that the proportion of U.S. Catholic priests who identify as politically progressive dropped from almost 70% among priests ordained in the mid-to-late 1960s to less than 5% among those ordained past 2020. Once again, the number of conservatives in this demographic has skyrocketed: between 1960 and 1979, less than 25% of U.S. Catholic priests identified as politically conservative, compared to 60% of priests ordained between 2015 and 2019 and 52% ordained past 2020, with a large swath (though by no means a majority) of younger priests identifying as politically moderate or unaffiliated.

Burge concluded, “White Catholics used to align pretty strongly with the Democrats, but that hasn’t been the case in the last four decades. White Catholics are right of center, politically. They favor Republicans over Democrats.” He added, “If anything, I think there’s evidence that the white Catholics will continue to coalesce around the GOP. … The future of American Catholicism is more conservative than it was 30 years ago.”

S.A. McCarthy serves as a news writer at The Washington Stand.