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.Dan Gilgoff of U.S. News & World Report writes that Father Richard Neuhaus, who died this week, was the architect of the conservative Catholic-Evangelical political alliance.
If Neuhaus was the architect of the Catholic-Evangelical alliance then his death may be metaphorically resonant in the same way Jerry Falwell’s became symbolic for a weakening of old-style evangelical politics. Just two months before Neuhaus’s death the Catholic-Evangelical alliance unravelled, with the Catholic vote shifting massively back in the Democratic direction this year.
A survey by Professor John Green in September indicated that Catholic and evangelical sentiment had been diverging for several years.
In 2004, for instance, vast majorities of traditional white evangelicals (85%) and traditional (i.e. observant) white Catholics (70%) thought the war in Iraq was “justified”; by August of 2008, conservative white evangelical support for the war had declined somewhat to 76.8% but conservative Catholic support has plummeted to 46.8%.
The same pattern persisted on other issues:
In 2004, white observant evangelicals and Catholics were kindred spirits [about gay marriage]: 90% of these evangelicals supported “traditional marriage” and 72.9% of traditional Catholics did. But while evangelicals still hold those views, the ground has shifted tremendously for Catholics. About 86.6% of traditional white evangelicals still believe only in traditional marriage, while 58.4% of traditional white Catholics now do.
The percentage of traditional white evangelicals who want stricter environmental regulation fell 15 points while the percentage of traditional white Catholics went up 3.7 points!
Finally, this same divergence appears in the questions about which issues matter most. In 2004, 10% of evangelicals listed the economy as the top priority; 17% of traditional Catholics did. This time, 33% of evangelicals do and 56.9% of Catholics do. There was a seven-point difference between the groups in 2004 and a 23 point spread in 2008.