Public Dialogue: Faith and the Faithful in the Midterm Elections
By Therese Perby Señal (C'19)
On Monday, November 19, 2018, Georgetown University’s Initiative of Catholic Social Thought and Public Life co-sponsored an event with the university’s Institute of Politics and Public Service to discuss the most recent midterm elections. The panel, consisting of two journalists and two researchers from Pew, focused mainly on voting trends of Catholics and Christians.
Robert Costa, a reporter for the Washington Post, spoke first and provided his two key takeaways from the election. The first is that the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation has affirmed to Republicans that the courts are a battleground for religious voters and both parties are now focusing their efforts on individual state legislatures as opposed to the national bodies. The second point is that the Democrats now believe they have their best opportunity since 1976 to bring religious voters to their party.
The other journalist at the panel was Elizabeth Dias, a national correspondent for the New York Times who covers faith, values, and the 2018 elections. She spent the majority of the runup to the midterms covering evangelicals in a dozen states. The voters that Dias spoke with were often tied to the Republican party, but races such as that between Beto O’Rourke and Ted Cruz in Texas highlight the potential for them to switch parties. According to Dias, many evangelical women supported O’Rourke, though they would not tell their husbands. That potential for crossover, however, is diluted by Democratic messaging on abortion and that welcoming pro-life voters is structurally difficult.
The panel also included pollsters from the Pew Research Center. As the moderator of the event, John Carr, put it, “We deliberately have reporters and researchers with us tonight, not pundits, public officials, or religious leaders because when it comes to discussions of religion and politics, we have a lot of proclamation and a lot of opinion, some rationalization, some spin, but we really don’t have much reporting and we don’t have enough facts.” The first of the researchers from Pew, Ana Gonzalez-Barrera, is a senior researcher and an expert on the U.S. Hispanic population and immigration issues. In keeping with her research, Gonzalez-Barrera focused on how Hispanics voted during the midterms. These voters tended to be young, around two-thirds of them were under the age of 35, and “more enthusiastic” about voting than other demographic groups. Hispanic voters in the midterm elections tended to vote Democratic, but Gonzalez-Barrera warns that Latino voters are not a monolithic group, saying “There is a big minority that is Republican and they are strong Republicans.” These Latinos, according to Gonzalez-Barrera, tend to be against immigration and more strongly anti-abortion, as compared to their Democratic counterparts.
The final panelist was Gregory Smith, a colleague of Gonzalez-Barrera and associate director of research at Pew Research Center. He focuses on religion and American politics as well as the political views of Catholics. Smith noted that for the most part, the research on American religious groups have remained continuous: groups that tend to vote Republican have stayed Republican, while groups that are primarily Democratic voted Democrat. Catholics, however, were split down the middle in the 2018 midterms, a divide primarily drawn on racial lines. White Catholics trended Republican while Latino Catholics were Democrats.
Carr ended the panel with a quote from Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, “There is no Catholic vote, and it’s really important.” Given the data presented at this panel, it will be interesting to see how Catholics, as well as religious voters as a whole, will vote in the 2020 elections.
Therese Perby Señal (C'19) is a senior in the College studying computer science.