Huckabee, Romney and Catholics

by Henry Farrell on January 7, 2008

One of the commenters to my post below suggested that Mike Huckabee was unlikely to do well among Catholics. “Philip Klinkner”: (who is really blogging interesting stuff on the races) has some county-level data from Iowa suggesting that this is true.

GOP caucus results (counties won by Huckabee in blue; by Romney in red)

Distribution of Catholics in Iowa (the redder the county, the more Catholics)

An eyeballing of the graph suggests that the parts of the state where Huckabee had most trouble were indeed, more often than not, those places where there were more Catholics. Klinkner runs a regression testing how percentage of population religious, percentage of population Catholic, percentage of population evangelical, and percentage of population rural affected voting for Huckabee, and finds that the coefficient for Catholicism is negative, high, and statistically significant.

Update see “here”: for Klinkner’s response to some of the methodological criticisms.

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Russell Arben Fox 01.07.08 at 9:37 pm

The traditional adherence of Catholics (who are more likely, even in the midwest, to be found in more diverse urban or exurban areas than rural and small town ones) to the Democratic party is hardly dead. It’s too bad we can’t get out of the available numbers exactly how many self-identifying Catholics participated in the Republican and Democratic primaries as a total percentage; clearly, Huckabee’s Southern folksy-populist-Protestant style turned off many Catholic conservative voters, but the question is, were they driven away entirely, or did they switch their votes (assuming Huckabee’s quasi-populist/anti-establishment-but-still-conservative message ever had them in the first place)? Interesting stuff; thanks Henry. As far as the GOP goes, this is bad news for Huckabee in New Hampshire and Michigan; good news for South Carolina. Maybe this primary really will last for a while. (More than you ever needed to hear about Huckabee’s weird appeal here.


Sean Carroll 01.07.08 at 9:45 pm

Should we control for things like education and income before concluding that “Catholicism” is the relevant variable?


Anderson 01.07.08 at 9:46 pm

Catholics prefer a *Mormon* to a Southern Baptist?



Roy Belmont 01.07.08 at 9:53 pm

Voters who drool out of the left sides of their mouths have indicated a distinct preference for the candidate who professes to believe there are small pastel-colored magical ponies waiting for us in heaven, while right-side droolers generally lean toward the candidate who professes to believe there are no four-legged animals in heaven at all, only bicycles – white ones with gold handlebars.


Chilly 01.07.08 at 10:01 pm

I’d note that the “Catholic” areas on the map are the more urbanized parts of the state — lots of 19th century blue-collar river cities, which of course are the types of places that attracted a lot of Catholic immigrants around the turn of the (last) century. I don’t have any particular explanation for why they’d favor Romney over Huckabee, but there are demographics at play other than straight religious preference.


Russell Arben Fox 01.07.08 at 10:03 pm

Catholics prefer a Mormon to a Southern Baptist?

More likely, the (dozens? hundreds? thousands?) of Catholics who showed up to vote Republican prefered an establishment-type CEO Republican to a populist Southern-style Republican, especially one who hangs out with Chuck Norris. (I mean, Catholics prefer New York vigilantes of Irish and Italian extraction over WASPy Texas vigilantes, right?)


Henry 01.07.08 at 10:09 pm

Chilly – rural/urban divide is controlled for in Klinkner’s toy model and Catholicism still has a strong impact. Income however isn’t, although I suspect it wouldn’t change the picture too much. Obviously, it would be nice to have individual level data on this instead, but as a first approximation it’s interesting.


Bloix 01.07.08 at 10:47 pm

You might put it that the parts of the state where Romney had the most trouble were the places where there were the most Protestants.


Gene O'Grady 01.07.08 at 11:02 pm

I actually grew up (and lived) Catholic in the American West, around a lot of Mormons. Catholics and Mormons, at least in the West, have historically gotten on well together, much better than either has gotten along with Baptists.

I remember a sermon about fifteen years in which a well-connected priest combined a statement of welcome to the Mormons (and Mennonites) who had recently joined the local ecumenical association with some very harsh words for the local evangelicals.

Put the other way around, Mormons in my experience almost always typically treat Catholics with respect, evangelicals often go out of their way to be insulting.

And consider the Mormon experience in Iowa in the 1840’s — heavy handed Protestant persecution. There are a lot of Catholics in small towns who can identify with that.


Andrew R. 01.07.08 at 11:22 pm

The one problem with the label “Catholic” is that it is something of a moving target. After all, Catholic can refer to someone who rigorously hews to the teachings of the Pope and Magisterium as well as someone whose never been to Church but happens to have been baptized into the faith and still think of himself as “Catholic” as a part of his ethnicity. So I think it’s tricky to try and make “Catholicism” *that* big a factor in someone’s decisions.


Steve LaBonne 01.07.08 at 11:51 pm

I don’t know why this surprises anybody. The efforts of wingnut evangelicals to cooperate with right-wing Catholics have always been hampered by the uncontrollable tendency of many wingnut preachers to revert to traditional Catholic-bashing form.

Andrew R.- the thing is, I expect that neither kind enjoys being insulted. And I bet opposition research could turn up some juicy Catholic- bashing nuggets from Huckleberry’s preacherman days.


boffo 01.08.08 at 12:17 am

Ecological fallacy anyone…?

The debaser notes that the Catholicism measure is confounded by urbanicity. More serious is the ecological inference problem. (Do we even know whether the counties high in Catholics are high in Republican Catholics?)

This is pretty lame stuff.


Dan Miller 01.08.08 at 12:42 am

Gene O’Grady: see also the Great Brain books for depictions of Catholics in Utah. They’re great kids stories.


roac 01.08.08 at 1:32 am

The point is that the Mormons and the Baptists are both expansionist, proselytizing organizations (which the Catholics by and large are not). So they are in overt competition with one another. I saw a blog post not long ago, I forget where, that documented the Southern Baptists’ organized anti-Mormon campaign.


Gene O'Grady 01.08.08 at 2:26 am

Mr. Miller — Believe it or not more than fifty years I was taught by nuns who had come to California from Our Lady of the Wasatch, and even then they seemed to get along well with the LDS. As does the current Archbishop of San Francisco, who just came from SLC.

Even more strangely, the other place some of our nuns had just come from was Pakistan, where they spoke fondly of their personal relations with the President (Ayub Khan, as I recall).

I don’t think LDS and Baptist proselytism are very similar. If you tell a Mormon missionary you’re Catholic, they’ll typically say that’s fine, do you want to talk. If you tell that to a Baptist, you’ll more than likely be told you’re going to hell. The best man (and best boss) I ever knew, who was a fairly high LDS functionary of some sort, explained to me once that their missionary philosophy was to live so that people who saw them would think they had a good thing going and want to share it. Didn’t get me over the golden plates, though. (Actually it was more Joe Smith’s denial of original sin and the peculiar conception of God, but that’s another story.)


Russell Arben Fox 01.08.08 at 2:56 am


1) Having grown up Catholic in and around Mormons in the American West you’re probably already familiar with them, but I strongly second Dan Miller’s recommendation in #13; the Great Brain books are tons of youth fiction fun, and filled with wonderful little asides and observations about being a minority in what was, at that time, a very homogenous Mormon state.

2) FWIW, I actually don’t think Mormon doctrine requires a denial of original sin, properly understood. But it’s a somewhat convolunted theological argument, and I’m a distinct minority in accepting it anyway.


Mary Catherine 01.08.08 at 3:06 am

I have no comment on methodology, except to note that if “Catholic” is, as per Andrew R in 10, a moving target, then it’s not moving very quickly. When it comes to voting behaviour, Catholic as ethnicity is precisely the point. People (self-identified Catholics, say) aren’t going to vote or not vote for this or that candidate based on their understanding of the dictates of canon law. They’re going to vote or not vote for someone because of all kinds of vaguer, mushier stuff: what resonates or sounds right, what raises alarm bells, based on all kinds of underlying, and often subconscious or pre-conscious, attitudes and presuppositions that have to do with, well, in this case, Catholic as ethnicity.

Anyway, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that Catholic voters preferred a Mormon to a Southern Baptist. In my experience, Catholics tend to think of the Mormon church as a bit odd, but basically harmless. Whereas there is a history of downright animosity between Catholics and Baptists.


Justin 01.08.08 at 4:55 am

Responding to a few people in the thread, I’d note that almost exactly 50% of Catholics went for Bush in 2004, so it’s not as if they’re a key democratic constituency or whatnot (they’re more likely to vote Democrat than protestants overall, but not by an overwhelming margin). So presumably there are plenty of republican catholics thereabouts, and it’s not immediately obvious that they’re voting against Huckabee because they’re secret liberals.


Quo Vadis 01.08.08 at 6:57 am

Whereas there is a history of downright animosity between Catholics and Baptists.

I grew up a Catholic in a small town in the heart of the Baptist/Evangelical bible belt. People who’s church services routinely involved parishioners speaking in tongues thought WE were the weird ones.


nick s 01.08.08 at 7:32 am

If you tell a Mormon missionary you’re Catholic, they’ll typically say that’s fine, do you want to talk. If you tell that to a Baptist, you’ll more than likely be told you’re going to hell.

The Mormons who knocked on our door — some of whom were actually American missionaries converting the heathen British — generally got the message at my dad’s ‘Sorry, no, Catholic.’

The double-glazing salesmen were less amenable.

I think the South Carolina map is going to be the really interesting one, because that’s got Bob Jones U in the north, and Charleston in the south. The sectarianism is vestigial, but memories are long.


jay bee 01.08.08 at 8:53 am

Well if a Catholic can be President of the US, presumably a Morman can too. Unlike in the UK where Tony Blair’s late conversion seems to confirm that it is not possible for a Catholic to be Prime Minister?
Maybe I missed the coverage over the Christmas break but am I the only one who is surprised that this doesn’t seem to have been widely commented upon?


magistra 01.08.08 at 9:45 am

On Blair: I don’t think it proves that a Catholic can’t be Prime Minister. The number of people who would disapprove that he was now a Catholic rather than a Protestant are pretty small (apart from possibly in Northern Ireland). On the other hand, it would have aroused extra hostility from a) all those who hate him having any faith at all (a lot of liberals) and b) right-wing Catholics in the media (Ann Widdecombe etc) who point out his un-Catholic views on abortion, gay rights etc. In other words, it would have gained him quite a lot of extra political grief, so he decided to postpone the matter. I think someone who was already a Catholic could get elected, but they’d have to make it clear (as JFK did) that they weren’t going to be bound by the Pope’s line on social matters.


psg (London) 01.08.08 at 11:21 am

The last British General Election involved taking a decision between a Protestant (Blair), a Jew (Howard) and a Catholic (Kennedy).I’ve seen no evidence that any votes shifted under the influence of religion and in fact question if most voters even noticed.

Blair was no doubt right to keep his personal religious decision away from public discussion.There is no appetite for bringing religion back into politics or vice versa and if anything observing both Northern Ireland and the U.S. is likely to help us keep it this way.

There are a lot of reasons for detesting Blair: I never heard any Liberal mention his religion any more than they mentioned Howard’s or Kennedy’s.Magistra evidently has had a different experience but I’m sceptical that anything more than hostility to bringing religion into the political debate actually exists.

I seriously doubt that a Catholic party leader would meet any obstacles whatsoever amongst British voters,no JFK statements are imaginable here and would indeed be counte-productive if volunteered.


jay bee 01.08.08 at 11:57 am

What I meant to say that it is not a serious obstacle with voters (& I agree with what psg says) but that it is a “constitutional” impossibility, up there with marrying the monarch or heir to the throne?

It seems to me that Blair himself saw be/becoming a Catholic as such an impossibility.

What little comment I saw about it seemed to mention that it was probably just as well he’d postponed it until leaving office as it would have caused all sorts of complications for the Anglican church’s relationship with the state without pointing out the absurdity of all that in contemporary Britain given.


franck 01.08.08 at 1:50 pm


I suppose I am skeptical that a Catholic party leader wouldn’t face opposition from Scotland and Northern Ireland voters, particularly if the party leader was Tory.


psg (London) 01.08.08 at 1:51 pm

There’s nothing constitutional to stop a Catholic becoming PM as presumably the Tories,of all people,concluded about Jews too when they selected Michael Howard.

The monarchy,of course is a different matter covered by written parts of our constitution.Blair might have been understandably anxious to avoid bringing the two issues of the monarchy and the established church into contemporary debate—full reform of the House Of Lords where the bishops still retain their ex officio seats is still ongoing (98 years to date).

For my part I’ve always hoped someone–The Lib Dems most likely — would make disestablishing the C of E a commitment if only so we could all enjoy outbreaks of antidisestablishmentarianism.


Ginger Yellow 01.08.08 at 2:07 pm

“The point is that the Mormons and the Baptists are both expansionist, proselytizing organizations (which the Catholics by and large are not). ”
Say what?

“People who’s church services routinely involved parishioners speaking in tongues thought WE were the weird ones.”

Well, you do cannibalise your God every week. Every religion looks weird to every other, and they all look weird to atheists.


psg (London) 01.08.08 at 2:24 pm

Northern Ireland’s voters elect MPs who reflect their religious/national divisions and are hence ignored by the three British parties who have had no support in Northern Ireland since the Ulster Unionists were finaly separated from the Tories in the 1970s.

Historically religion was certainly influentional:Methodism/Liberalism and Church of England = Tory-Party-At-Prayer etc and you can still see the influence of that on our own map.However those who unconsciously vote like this are no longer so active religiously as to suddenly alter a lifetime’s voting habit when a party leader switches religion.

In my own family and others I know the rabidly anti-Catholic ancestors were that infuriating beast the working-class Tory,doggedly voting against their own economic interests.Anyone still like them would merely see one more reason for not voting Labour so no change.The Tories have only 1 Scottish MP and no hope of much more in any forseeable circumstances.


Mrs Tilton 01.08.08 at 2:43 pm

Franck @25,

I am skeptical that a Catholic party leader wouldn’t face opposition from Scotland and Northern Ireland voters, particularly if the party leader was Tory.

You mean like this Tory party leader? (A Scot, to boot!)

His party did eventually throw him under a bus, it’s true. But that’s because he was rubbish, not because he is catholic.

Here’s another Scottish RC (but non-Tory) party leader, BTW. Also given the push; but for booze, not popery.

As for the Wee North and its (lack of) influence on the choice of non-NI party leaders: what psg said.


lemuel pitkin 01.08.08 at 3:23 pm

God, is there anything that brings out as much crap statistical analysis as presidential elections?

The regression is based on the counties representing 100-odd independent observations. but look at the map: that’s just obviously not true. We aren’t looking at 100 counties here, we’re looking at three or four regions. Under the circumstances regression analysis isn’t going to be able to distinguish between religion and anything else that varies along the same regional axes, which no doubt includes not every all the demographic variables you could think of but no doubt some idiosyncratic geographic stuff as well. It’s like doing a regression on comments on this post and some typical Redstate thread and treating every comment as an independent observation. You’d find that left-leaning blog readers are far more interested than right-leaning ones in the Flashman books. No doubt with a high degree of statistical significance and a big r-squared.

Such BS.


roac 01.08.08 at 3:51 pm

What I said. I can’t speak for others, but I for one have never had to turn off the TV and dive behind the couch because of Catholics coming up the front walk.

The Catholic Church, in my observation, works hard to try and bring back people who were raised Catholic and lapsed. Roping in everybody and everybody is not their main focus, as it emphatically is for both Mormons and Baptists.


nick s 01.08.08 at 6:13 pm

On Blair: I don’t think it proves that a Catholic can’t be Prime Minister.

Blair was what you’d call ‘Catholic by osmosis’ long before he officially jumped; my guess is that he didn’t want to become the first Catholic PM through conversion, in case that set off any weird constitutional nonsense. Better that someone raised in the Church crosses that barrier, because he/she will be more able to tell insufferable converts like Anne Widdicombe to shut up.


Sebastian Holsclaw 01.08.08 at 11:31 pm

I sort of agree with pitkin, but not as strongly. Is each county really an observation, or are they fairly arbitrary divisions?


Eli Rabett 01.09.08 at 12:36 am

Well, Eli does have a name you know, even a blog and a Simple Plan for Saving the World, but the real point of my comment was that the republican theocratic bird has two wings, CONSERVATIVE Catholics (very anti-abortion those) and evangelicals. In spite of Bill Bennett these two have little in common and enjoy a mutual fondness (not), so Huckabee causes the foo bird to circle endlessly until, well you know what.


leederick 01.09.08 at 3:06 am

“Obviously, it would be nice to have individual level data on this instead, but as a first approximation it’s interesting.”

Not really. It’s an absolute wreck. Ignoring confounding, and ecological inference, and collinearity, it’s not even a correct calculation.

The guy has designed his independent variables so as they’re structurally dependent on each other (%Religious = %Catholic + %Evangelical + %Other). So the inferences are all going to be wrong. That aside: you can’t use the coefficient for Catholicism to test whether Huckabee had most trouble where there were more Catholics while including terms for the percentage of population religious and the percentage of population evangelical. These terms are going to at least in part control for the absolute proportion of Catholics, defeating the whole object.

God knows what the correct interpretation of the Catholic coefficient is, but it’s not going to represent the % change in the Huckabee vote for every additional % of Catholics in the population. Which is what you’re supposedly testing.


lemuel pitkin 01.09.08 at 5:21 am

I sort of agree with pitkin, but not as strongly. Is each county really an observation, or are they fairly arbitrary divisions?

“Agree with Pitkin” are the three sweetest words in the blogosphere, but it sounds like you’ve gotten to the right place place the wrong way here. If counties were indeed arbitrary divisions, then these results would be fine. The problem is that Kirchner is treating them as arbitrary divisions — as random samples of the Iowa population — when they are not arbitrary at all. When you’ve got geographic data like this where pretty much every demographic variable is organized along the same lines, plus a bunch of geographic confounders like endorsements by local officials, unions with memberships based in particular areas, etc., you just have a lot fewer data points than the naive regression analysis Kirchner does assumes. Under the circumstances, calculating significance and so on as if you’ve got 100 separate observations is just bad statistics. It’s not a first approximation of anything. Henry should know better.


lemuel pitkin 01.09.08 at 5:23 am

Ouch. Reading leederick’s post now I see I was giving Kirchner way to much credit. Doesn’t even rise to the level of BS. Is statistical practice among political scientists normally this bad?


Roy 01.09.08 at 1:11 pm

I think this is signifigant because it suggests that Huckabee might not be the man to bring the Republican party to the Economic left, because the Republican coalition is pretty dependent on Catholic voters and his economic positions are anathema to the nonreligious part of the Republican base.

Personally as an American Catholic I have always had a certain sympathy for Mormons, they are generally pleasant, they have little historic antipathy for catholics and they are frequently persecuted by the very same people who until very recently talked about Popish plots. Add the fact that I was once subjected to a Baptist specifically condemning them to me and several others for believing in the “false doctrine of works” and my feelings can grow positively warm.

Huckabee’s sleazy insinuations against Romney for his religion grate on many catholics as well, even non religious ones because they remind us, as a group, of the kind of rhetoric that isn’t so long past in this country especially regarding Kennedy.

As an incidental I might note that Romney’s fiercest defender at the National Review is the very vocally Catholic social conservative, Kathryn Lopez.

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