Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I hate bad social science, and I hate bad political science most of all. Here's a fun example, from MSNBC: Decision 2012 and the myth of the 'Catholic vote':
The most misunderstood voting bloc in the 2012 election is the Catholic vote.
Because there isn’t one.
The religious assemblage, which has evolved over the past century from a strong Democratic constituency into a national election bellwether, is no longer discernible from most other voter groups. As the community has become less homogenous and more assimilated into mainstream culture, so has its voting habits – sending many politicians on a fool’s errand in pursuit of the “Catholic vote.”
Well now, what exactly is that supposed to mean, and what evidence does the article point to? You will search hard for the answers to those questions, without satisfaction. There are quotes from people who say things like, “I think the Catholic vote is very fractured right now,” but these people turn out to be a Jesuit shaman, or a professor at Catholic University, or the conservative editor of an echo chamber called "First Things", and the evidence that they point to is suspect. For example, the piece notes that Catholics (a self-defined group by the way) favored Mittens over their co-coreligionists Newt and The Man Who Was Afraid to Google in the Florida, Michigan and Ohio primaries. Leaving aside the obvious logical fallacy-- (Catholics voted as a block for a Mormon guy therefore Catholics do not vote as a block) -- what this suggests is Catholics who vote in Republican primaries may not be motivated by a candidate's religion. That actually makes a certain amount of sense to me-- most of the Catholics I know are less guided by the institutional church than they are by a set of self-selected principles. I'm not sure how they operate with that level of cognitive dissonance -- it's a mystery, as they used to tell me-- but they do, and they have for a long time, at least in this country.

Past that, there is the question of what a swing voter actually is. I have a feeling that a swing voter is like a clutch hitter-- you can catch a glimpse of one, but none have been actually photographed or captured in the wild. Were there really Catholics who voted for Gore and then four years later voted for Bush? Or was it, as I suspect, that a fair number of Catholics bought into the foolishness that there was little difference between Bush and Gore and so stayed home? To answer that question you would need data, and data is antithetical to the editors of journals like "First Things". Cats like that prefer explanations that are based in faith, because then they can make stuff up.

UPDATE: I think what I am trying to say here is that there is a meaningful difference between the institutional Church and the people who identify as Catholics. This goes beyond access to insurance subsidized contraception --members of the institutional church are probably the 2% that don't use it, because they are not supposed to be having sex at all-- and certainly colors voting behavior. If you want to poll Catholics, go for it. If you want to know what motivates Catholics politically, the least scientific way to go about it would be to ask a bishop. I can count on the fingers of my hand the number of times I've even seen a bishop off a chessboard. They have essentially no connection to the overwhelming majority of the Catholic population, and when a bishop's letter is read to a congregation, in my experience, there is an audible groan.

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