Did Catholics support Santorum on caucus night?

January 4th, 2012

Posted by James January 4th, 2012 in Catholics, Caucus, Iowa, Santorum

With Rick Santorum's surprising late surge in Iowa, the uber-Catholic and social conservative du jour is now at the center of national attention.  Given the prominence of Rick Santorum's Catholic faith and the importance of faith voters to the Iowa caucus, I decided to run the numbers on Rick Santorum's near victory last night and see how well he performed in heavily Catholic counties.  The results were surprising.

Rick Santorum proudly wears Catholicism on his sleeve despite having multiple positions that are contrary to Catholic teaching (hat tip John Gehring at Faith in Public Life).  For example, to win the heart of pro-life voters, Santorum famously cried when he retold a story on the campaign trail about how he and his family grieved over a dead fetus that was still born.

And veteran Iowa caucus campaigner Joe Trippi underscored just how important Catholics were to Santorum's success.  Reporting on FoxNews.com on the eve of the Iowa caucus, Trippi's top suggestion was: “Watch Dubuque: The county in the northeast corner of the state is heavily Catholic and an area Romney scored well in four years ago. If Rick Santorum isn’t winning here it means the Santorum surge isn’t real or isn’t big enough to matter. The state is 23% Catholic – if Santorum, a pro-life Catholic himself, consolidates the Catholic vote in Dubuque and elsewhere the Iowa surprise could be a Santorum win.”

So how did the Catholic community perform for Santorum on caucus night?  Not so well if you look at the numbers.

If you take the the 25 most Catholic counties in the state of Iowa and compare them with the 25 counties that Rick Santorum performed the best in, you will find that only five of these counties are counties that Santorum carried by a wide margin.  Conversely, of the 25 counties that Santorum did the worst in, 9 are heavily Catholic counties.   On top of this, Dubuque, the most Catholic county in the State of Iowa – as pointed out by Trippi- was won by Mitt Romney with 31% of the vote.

So what to make of this? If you substitute Evangelical for Catholic, the numbers are more telling.   Of the top 25 counties that Santorum carried, 10 are heavily Evangelical.  Of the 25 worst counties for Santorum, only 2 are heavily Evangelical.  Clearly Evangelicals were a more important constituency to Santorum's surge and help explain why the candidate felt he could take positions late in the campaign that were clearly contrary to positions of the Catholic Church on Mercury pollution and immigration policy.  Furthermore, Santorum's mediocre performance within Catholic counties underscores just how multivariate the Catholic vote really is.  Many Catholic voters do not respond well to culturally divisive wedge issues like abortion and gay marriage.  Surely many Catholic voters in Iowa chose to stay home or caucus with the more moderate and pro-choice candidate Mitt Romney.

So as the Catholic far-right celebrates Santorum's near victory in Iowa, they can not honestly claim that the Catholic community was the driving force behind his recent surge.