Catholic Faith in the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election

October 22, 2020

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U.S. flag flies in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City

Catholic faith—on both sides of the aisle—is in the news as the 2020 U.S. presidential election fast approaches. Former vice president and Democratic nominee Joseph R. Biden, Jr., known as a devout Catholic who attends Mass weekly, has spoken openly during the campaign about how his faith shapes his politics. If elected, Biden would be the second Catholic president, after President John F. Kennedy. A majority of American Catholics voted for Kennedy and his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, but a singular Catholic voting bloc is today a distant memory—owing in no small part to socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic divides in U.S. Catholicism. The elusive Catholic vote remains in play for both candidates in the upcoming election.

The election cycle has seen both campaigns take active steps to engage Catholic voters. For example, the Biden campaign launched a “Catholics for Biden” initiative in September 2020, and four Catholic-led groups are working to re-elect President Trump. Catholic faith became a more complicated factor in the campaign when the president nominated Amy Coney Barrett, a Catholic professor of law at the University of Notre Dame, to the U.S. Supreme Court. Judge Barrett has been the subject of intense scrutiny, not only for the timing of her nomination but also for her membership in People of Praise, a charismatic Christian group. The nomination joins a host of other issues, including pro-life policies, that Catholics must parse as they head to the polls in November, overlaying broader concerns for the religious voter

This week the Berkley Forum asks: What role has Catholic faith played in the Democratic and Republican strategies during the 2020 presidential election? Are the candidates taking new approaches to Catholic outreach? If so, how? What is the significance of nominating Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court? What ethical and religious questions does her nomination raise for voters, lawmakers, and practitioners? In what ways has U.S. Catholicism changed since the election of the first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, in 1960?

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