ideologies catholic whole final

This post updates our graph of the political ideologies of American churches and religion. See this post for the graph and further detail on how to read it.

One of the most notable features of last week’s graph religion and politics in the U.S. was the location of Catholics. Readers described it Catholics as being “dead center” or “bullseye.” On both economic policy and social policy, Catholics in the pews are, on average, in the middle of American politics.

Of course, one reason for the location of Catholics is that it is the church is, well, catholic. It is a both large and diverse. Keeping all Catholics together may be a valid decision, but it belies some important religious and political differences within the faith.

Getting to eight types of Catholics

ideologies catholic whole b FINALI’ve broken down Catholics into eight types. There’s no magic reason to have nine and not four, six, or a dozen. But these nine are based on several differences we find among American Catholics. In addition to the graph above, there’s a simplified version (click picture on the right) that shows just Catholics without other churches or religions.

1. Practicing vs. Not Practicing Catholics

Some people are culturally Catholic but are not active in their religion. They were born (and baptized) Catholic and may have been raised Catholic. As adults, however, they do not participate in the life of a local parish.  For my purposes, I used a low bar to place people into the “not practicing” category. Catholics who attend even a few times a year are, at least in this study, considered practicing.

2. Traditional vs. Modern Catholics

One of the challenges among Catholics is how to bring together the church’s tradition with modern life. Traditional Catholics are those who believe the Church should “preserve its traditional beliefs and practices.”  In contrast, modern Catholics are those who believe that the church should “adjust” to modern life or even “adopt modern beliefs and practices.”

3. Latino Catholics vs. other ethnic Catholics

Latinos are one of the largest ethnicities within the American Catholic church. In many places, they are also one of the most recent immigrants. To be clear: not all Latino catholics are part of Latino congregations. Still, many are, and, for now, they represent a different flavor of Catholicism in America.

4. Pentecostal Catholics vs. other Catholics

Most pentecostals are evangelical Protestants, but there are also many Catholics who are pentecostal. Pentecostalism is a religious movement that emphasizing  the active working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Catholics, which believed to be manifest in miracles or speaking in tongues. Pentecostal Catholics often participate in services beyond the traditional mass, services that feature contemporary, energetic worship services. Pentecostal Catholics are a growing movement with the Church worldwide, just as they are within Protestantism.

Putting these four divisions together, I can identify eight types of Catholics in America:

  1. Not practicing
  2. Latino Pentecostal (includes both modern and traditional because of sample size)
  3. Latino Modern (does not include Pentecostals)
  4. Latino Traditional (does not include Pentecostals)
  5. Pentecostal Traditional (does not include Latinos)
  6. Pentecostal Modern (does not include Latinos)
  7. Traditional (does not include Latinos or Pentecostals)
  8. Modern (does not include Latinos or Pentecostals)

Observations from the graph

There’s a lot of information stuffed into this one graph, but here are a few key things we can see:

  • Each of the three Latino Catholics types are located near each other, favoring more government services and greater protection of morality.
  • Not Practicing Catholics are the most liberal, being left of center on both government spending and government protection of morality.
  • Modern Catholics are the largest type. This groups holds a similar stance on social issues as Not Practicing, but is right of center on government spending.
  • Traditional Catholics are the true conservatives — smaller government on economics but larger role on social issues.
  • Pentecostals are more conservative on both dimensions than other Catholics. Modern Pentecostals are more conservative than other Catholics who want to adapt to modern life; Traditional Pentecostals are more conservative than other Catholics who are want to preserve tradition.

Geek note on measurement

The range of each dimension ranges from zero to 100. These scores were calculated by calculating the percentage of each religion giving each answer. The percentages were then subtracted (e.g., percent saying “smaller government” minus percent saying “bigger government”). The scores were then standardized using the mean and standard deviation for all of the scores. Finally, I converted the standardized scores into percentiles by mapping the standardized scores onto the standard Gaussian/normal distribution. The result is a score that represents the group’s average graded on the curve, literally.

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Tobin Grant

Tobin Grant

@TobinGrant blogs for Religion News Service at Corner of Church and State, a data-driven conversation on religion and politics. He is a political science professor at Southern Illinois University and associate editor of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.


  1. It would probably be a better reflection of terminology to classify your “Pentecostal Catholics” as “Charismatic Catholics.”

    Although there is disagreement, most students of American religion would identify “Pentecostal” with churches that were birthed during the late 19th and early 20th century while “Charismatic” tends to refer to those who have some common ecstatic expressions but have remained within their more mainstream denominations (Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, etc.).

    • Here is a definition that Pew used in a research project on Pentecostalism:

      In this report, the term pentecostal is used to describe individuals who belong to classical pentecostal denominations, such as the Assemblies of God or the Church of God in Christ, that were founded shortly after the famous Azusa Street Revival in the early 20th century, as well as those who belong to pentecostal denominations or churches that have formed more recently, such as the Brazil-based Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.

      Charismatics, by contrast, are a much more loosely defined group. The term generally refers to Christians who have experienced the “in-filling” of the Holy Spirit but who are not members of pentecostal denominations. Indeed, most charismatics are members of mainstream Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox denominations. In the surveys, respondents were categorized as charismatic if they met one of three criteria: (1) they describe themselves as “charismatic Christians”; or (2) they describe themselves as “pentecostal Christians” but do not belong to pentecostal denominations; or (3) they say they speak in tongues at least several times a year but they do not belong to pentecostal denominations.

  2. A little disappointed not to find myself and many of my contemporaries on the chart. I have a sense that our absence from the graph reflects some inaccurate assumptions on the part of its developer. Like a great many Catholic Democrats, I’m politically left of center and deeply Catholic. Like my peers, I’m not big on the doctrine of papal infallibility and anticipate married, Catholic priests of both genders. Demographically, we resemble our more traditional peers, but the similarity ends there. One starting point to research this group might be a review of subscribers to Commonweal or America.

  1. […] Catholics redux — Placing 8 types of Catholics onto one big graph of religion … This post updates our graph of the political ideologies of American churches and religion. See this post for the graph and further detail on how to read it. One of the most notable features of last week's graph religion and politics in the U.S. was the … Read more on Religion News Service […]

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