Lost in much of the analysis in the breakdown of the Democrats fall outside of urban areas in the state is the collapse of the party’s competitiveness among catholic voters- particularly non-Hispanic catholic voters over the past eight years. Per exit polling data Democrats have gone from Barack Obama winning the overall catholic vote statewide in 2008 to losing it by five points in 2012 to Hillary Clinton losing it by ten points in 2016. When you split off Hispanic Catholics, Mitt Romney got 62% of Catholic vote in 2012 and Donald Trump about 70% in 2016. Non-Hispanic Catholics in Florida and nationally are voting more and more like white protestants and that should scare every leader in the Democratic Party.
For years, the catholic vote represented a core constituency for Democrats here in Florida, in the industrial Midwest and also in the urban centers of the Northeast. The differences between white catholic voters and white protestant voters was stark but now the two constituencies are voting more and more like one another.
Seeing the collapse of the non-Hispanic Catholic vote for Democrats at the top-of-the-ticket helps explain why the party is on the run in medium-sized counties like Pasco, Marion and Volusia which have a fair amount of white catholic voters particularly Midwestern and Northeastern transplants. These counties are now voting much like parts of non-urban Ohio and Michigan as well as upstate New York. Those areas all share a Republican heritage, but the medium-sized counties of Central and North Central Florida do not share that Republican heritage, but have essentially assumed it over the course of the last six years.
Per the Pew Research Center, the Catholic vote declined 5% nationally for Hillary Clinton in 2016 from President Obama’s 2012 level and nine percent from 2008.
While secularism is a core tenet of the American republic, Democrats have to make appeals to religious voters – if not based on faith on the types of economic issues that appeal to Catholics, long the core of the national Democratic coalition.
The new leadership of the party at both the state and national level must address the decline in vote share Democratic candidates are getting among catholic voters. Otherwise, the party can expect to continue to lose elections for the foreseeable future. This is just another issue to put on the checklist of what party leaders need to address.
In the near future we’ll gather data and try and analyze why white catholic voters and steering clear of the Democrats in Florida.