Yesterday, Terry Gross interviewed filmmakers Calvin Skaggs and David Van Taylor who made With God on Our Side: George W. Bush and the Rise of the Religious Right, premiering on Sundance this month. It is a followup to their PBS series from the 1996.

What grabbed my attention was their response to Gross’ question about when the religious right decided to make Abortion an issue. They stated that it could be traced to a 1978 speech by Jerry Falwell. They argued that the issue was picked not so much because it would mobilize support amongst the religious right (although that too), but because it was an issue which would help bring over Catholics to the Republican party. Until then Catholics had always voted for the Democrats.

Well, when we look at the 2004 election it turns out that Bush didn’t get much more support from evangelical Christians this time than he did in 2000. However, it seems that he did make big gains amongst members of one important religious group: Catholics.

Bush’s strong performance among Catholics, it turns out, was crucial to his victory. Bush won Catholics 52%-47% this time, while Al Gore carried them 50%-46% in 2000. If Kerry had done as well as Gore, he would have had about a million more votes nationwide. According to Gallup Polls, only one Democrat since 1952 (Walter Mondale in 1984) lost the Catholic vote by this large a margin.

And the effect was even more significant in the swing” states. So homosexuality and abortion mattered in this election — but the effect was mostly felt among Catholic voters, not evangelicals.