Presidential Race
2:28 am
Sun February 26, 2012

Why Mich. Catholics Favor The Mormon Candidate

Originally published on Wed February 29, 2012 8:20 am

Presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are neck-and-neck in the polls in the run-up to the Michigan Republican primary on Tuesday.

One group that Romney appears to have an advantage with is Roman Catholic voters despite the fact that he is Mormon and Santorum Catholic.

The disconnect between faith and politics highlights differences among Catholics and shows that some religious voters are focusing more on other issues.

Declaring Faith

Santorum doesn't shy away from letting people know that he's a man of faith. He visited the Knights of Columbus hall in Lincoln Park on Friday. The Knights of Columbus is a fraternal service group, sort of like a Catholic version of groups like the Shriners. Santorum is a member, and his faith a central theme in his campaign.

"I'm a Catholic, and I'm told that one of the responsibilities of the Church is to care for those who are the least among us," he said, "and I believe that, and that's a real responsibility for all of us."

According to Public Policy Polling, Santorum's faith and image as a family man give him a boost in Michigan with Protestants, Evangelicals and those who consider themselves "very conservative." Some national polls differ, though.

Romney leads the field with moderates, "somewhat conservative" voters and Catholics, according to the Public Policy poll.

"There's a lot of complexity there," says John Green, a political science professor at the University of Akron. "Religion and politics often line up, but they don't always correlate perfectly."

The Catholic Spectrum

Green says you can think of Catholicism on a continuum.

"There is ... what we might call the orthodoxy of religious beliefs, and someone like Sen. Santorum is a very orthodox Catholic in terms of religion. He holds very closely to the traditional teachings of the Church," he says.

That continuum moves from the very traditional to the nontraditional.

"Some Catholic conservatives, or liberals for that matter, may be turned off by a fellow parishioner or a Catholic candidate who is self-consciously a traditionalist," he says.

Green says until the 1960s, regardless of where Catholics stood on that continuum, they tended to vote as a group for Democrats. But as Catholics — many of whom were recent immigrants — began to assimilate and become more accepted, their views on politics began to splinter. You can see that diversity of thought at almost any parish.

Religion Takes A Back Seat

Few things say "Midwestern Roman Catholic" like a Lenten Friday night fish fry. At St. William's Parish in Walled Lake, Mich., nearly 1,000 parishioners and their friends line up for fish fry, shrimp and cheese pizza.

"It's endless refills, so you can literally let the fat kid inside of you out and eat as much as you want," says Katie Goebel, whose father runs the fish fry.

She's not just here for the fish; she's also here to see Santorum. Goebel hasn't made up her mind who to vote for, but her faith plays a role.

"I will admit it does play a big role on issues like on contraception, abortion, things like that. But other things, like marriage and all that, I'm sort of up in the air," she says. "You know, people more [in] my generation, we're seeing things like gay marriage and stuff like that as OK."

Jan Artushin and her husband both attend mass regularly, and they're both undecided.

"I think we have to focus on the economy and jobs," she says. "I think that the religious issues ... [are] taking a back step because I think we're in such dire straights right now."

Green, the professor, says Catholics vote in many ways like other groups. Electability trumps faith — at least at this stage.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are neck and neck in the polls, in the run-up to the Michigan Republican primary. But Romney seems to have an edge with one group in Michigan - Roman Catholics voters. Santorum, meanwhile, leads with Protestant and evangelical Christians voters there, even though Santorum is Catholic.

NPR's Sonari Glinton found out why.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Rick Santorum doesn't shy away from letting people know he's a man of faith. Here he is in Lincoln Park, Michigan, on the eastern part of the state.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

RICK SANTORUM: Thank you. Thank you very, very much. I appreciate it. It is great to here at a Knights of Columbus Hall on a Friday during Lent. How can you do better than that?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GLINTON: The Knights of Columbus is a fraternal service group - sort of like a Catholic version of groups like the Shriners. Rick Santorum is a member, and his faith is a central theme in his campaign.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SANTORUM: You know, I'm a Catholic. And I'm told that one of the responsibilities of the church is to care for those who are the least among us. And I believe that - and that's a real responsibility for all of us.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

GLINTON: According to a Public Policy poll, Santorum's faith, and image as a family man, help give him double-digit leads in Michigan with Protestants, evangelicals, and those who consider themselves very conservative - though some national polls differ.

In the same poll, Romney, who's Mormon, leads the field with moderates, somewhat conservative voters and Catholics.

JOHN GREEN: So there's a lot of complexity there. Religion and politics often line up but they don't always correlate perfectly.

GLINTON: John Green is a professor of political science at the University of Akron. He says you can think of Catholicism on a continuum.

GREEN: There is the - what you might call the orthodoxy of religious beliefs. And someone like Senator Santorum is a very orthodox Catholic, in terms of religion. He holds very closely to the traditional teachings of the church.

GLINTON: That continuum moves from very traditional, to non.

GREEN: Some Catholic conservatives - or liberals, for that matter - may be turned off by a fellow parishioner or a Catholic candidate who is self-consciously a traditionalist.

GLINTON: Green says until the '60s, regardless of where Catholics stood on that continuum, they tended to vote as a group for Democrats. But as Catholics, many of whom were recent immigrants, began to assimilate and become more accepted, their views on politics began to splinter. And you can see that diversity of thought at almost any parish.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD AT CHURCH EVENT)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Four fried fish, one shrimp and a pizza.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: All right.

GLINTON: Few things say Midwestern Roman Catholic like a Lenten Friday Night Fish Fry. At St. William's Parish in Walled Lake, Michigan, nearly a thousand parishioners and their friends are lined up for fried fish, shrimp and cheese pizza.

KATIE GOEBEL: But it's endless refills, so you can literally let the fat kid inside of you out, and eat as much as you want.

GLINTON: Katie Goebel's father runs the fish fry, but she's not just here for the fish. She's also here to see the candidate - in this case, Rick Santorum. She hasn't made up her mind who to vote for, but her faith will play a role.

GOEBEL: It does - I will admit, it does play a big role on issues like on contraception, abortion, things like that. But other things, like marriage and all that, I'm sort of up in the air. It - you know, people more my generation, we're seeing like, things like gay marriage and stuff like that as OK.

GLINTON: Jan and Tom Artushin both attend Mass regularly, and they're both undecided.

JAN ARTUSHIN: I think we have to focus on the economy and jobs.

TOM ARTUSHIN: Jobs and the economy, no doubt.

JAN ARTUSHIN: I really think that that's what we have to focus on. I think that the religious issues - I - that's - I think that right now, it's taking a back step because I think we are in such dire straits right now.

GLINTON: John Green, the professor, says Catholics vote in many ways like other groups - electability trumps faith, at least at this stage.

Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Walled Lake, Michigan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.