Sabato’s Crystal Ball: PRIDE, PREJUDICE, AND PRESIDENTS
One unusual function of presidential elections is to allow us to confront our own prejudices. The 2008 contest already guarantees us more opportunities to do that than any other in American history.
The nation’s performance in this regard is both ugly and inspiring. New York Governor Al Smith, the first Roman Catholic nominated by a major party for the White House, endured withering volleys of pure hate in 1928, losing even solidly Democratic states in the heavily Protestant South to Republican Herbert Hoover. But by 1960, Americans were able (barely) to get beyond their fears of “papist rule from the Vatican” to elect John F. Kennedy. Still, 80 percent of Catholics voted for JFK while 69 percent of Protestants cast a ballot for Richard M. Nixon. Religious affiliation was the single greatest predictor of an individual’s vote in that remarkable year. No other Catholic has since won the Presidency, but several candidates in both parties are affiliated with this religion–and it is highly doubtful that it will be much of an issue.
Another religion will be an issue, owing to GOP candidate Mitt Romney. One of the most discouraging surprises from the 2008 campaign so far has been how virulent the strain of anti-Mormonism is in our nation. Several surveys have shown that more Americans openly admit that they would not vote for a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) than would rule out voting for a woman or an African-American.