WASHINGTON, Nov. 8 (UPI) -- The editors of Crisis, a Roman Catholicperiodical, once referred to their co-religionists as possibly "the mostmaddening electoral group in American politics."

Once solidly in the Democratic camp, they drive "pollsters, pundits, andpoliticians of all stripes to distraction," Crisis stated. Long gone are thedays of the solid Irish-German Catholic bloc that supported theDemocrats since the mid-19th century.

Long gone, too, is the era of the Catholic bosses of Tammany Hall, NewYork's Democratic Party machine, who were always able to "deliver" atelection time.

According to a Gallup poll released the day before Tuesday's presidentialelection, Catholics were evenly split between Vice President Al Gore andTexas Governor George W. Bush. Each candidate had the support of 45 percent of that group, while the Green Party's Ralph Nader garnered a mere five percent. Among the general population Bush had a 47-43 percent edge over hisDemocratic rival.

The Roman Catholics in the United States make up 27 per cent of theelectorate, and their number is growing with the influx of immigrants fromLatin America.

But as in their voting habits, there are only marginally distinct from therest of the U.S. population. They are in church more frequently, QEVAnalytics, a Washington polling group, found. Forty-six percent go to Massat least once a week, whereas 37 percent of all Americans attend religiousservices.

But is there really such a thing as a Catholic vote? "The only logicalanswer is that there are two Catholic votes -- just as there are two kindsof Catholics in America," columnist Robert D. Novak wrote some time ago. "The active Catholic attends Mass every Sunday and will tend to conform tothe views of the bishops, at least on abortion," he continued. "The inactiveCatholic is an inconstant communicant, likely is not a member of any parishchurch, and is cut off from the views of the bishops, particularly when itcomes to abortion."

A study commissioned by the Pew Charitable Trusts in 1994 came to similarconclusions: 70 per cent of liberal Protestants, non-religious people and"progressive Catholics" support abortion rights.

However, "traditional Catholics" have one thing in common with evangelicalsand blacks: They are much more likely to be pro-life. Wrote communicationsprofessor Terry Mattingly: "Political leaders who covet the votes ofAmerica's 60 million Catholics must face this reality."

In an article entitled, The Catholic Political Identity, Crisis authorSteven Wagner makes some further generalizations some of which show upmarked differences between active Catholics and conservative Protestants: Catholics are distinctively patriotic but not anti-government; they do notfavor indiscriminate budget cuts. Yet they do not see themselves a BigGovernment liberals.

Although many Catholics consider themselves conservatives, they are not infavor of unbridled free markets.

They show concern for the poor but do favor recent welfare reforms andreject job quotas and other forms of affirmative action.

There is one point at which active Catholics are of one mind withconservative evangelicals: They believe in an absolute standard of moralityand resolutely resist the claim of a moral right to do wrong. A claim Wagnercalls "a central tenet of contemporary liberalism."

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