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When trying to determine the effect of something, say a hammer on a nail, we deem it quite useful to know the difference between the nail and your thumb. In other words, we must define our terms. When trying to determine the effect of Romney’s pick of the Catholic Paul Ryan as his running mate on the Catholic vote, we must first define what the Catholic vote is. Depending how you define it, a strong case can be made that the Catholic vote does not even exist.

Many make a mistake of thinking of the “this” vote or “that” vote when it comes to Catholics. The word “black” in the “black vote” is a useful adjective in discerning one type of vote from another since blacks vote with such uniformity as to constitute a discreet voting bloc; whereas the general voting population typically splits 50-50, give or take, the “black vote” overwhelmingly goes for Democrats. Other groups, loosely defined, have varied tastes in candidates and parties, but also have consistently discernible leanings that make them useful to categorize as electoral groups as well.

This brings us to Catholics. If “Catholic” in the Catholic vote includes any baptized person regardless of their participation in church life or orthodoxy, then there is no Catholic vote. Catholics, so defined, tend to vote in the same proportions as does the general voting public. It should come as no surprise that people who live their lives in conformity with the culture at large without regard to the tenets of the Church vote the same way they live. In the same way that most Catholics are indiscernible from the public, the Catholic vote is indiscernible from the general vote. The Catholic vote is a distinction without a difference.

Looked at that way, to determine if Paul Ryan will help or hurt that vote is to determine his impact on the general voting public. With that, your guess is as good as mine. This will obviously be subject to how well the Obama campaign can define Ryan as a heartless social Darwinian and how well the Romney campaign can make the case for Ryan’s proposals as fiscal sanity. Therefore, this question I cannot answer, but that does not mean I am giving up on the question about the Catholic vote.

However, if you define the “Catholic vote” a little differently perhaps we gain some insight. Catholics who attend mass regularly and frequent the sacraments overall tend to be conservative when it comes to the social issues, particularly life issues. Catholics who are opposed to abortion, like everyone else in the Republican Party primary process, were not particularly enthusiastic about Romney’s candidacy. This was in no small part due to the fact that Romney’s conversion to the pro-life cause coincided with his decision to seek the Republican nomination. We Catholics hope and pray for conversions, but that does not mean we always trust them, particularly conveniently timed political conversions.

As the saying goes: trust, but verify.

This is where the selection of Ryan may come into play. While the rest of the political world is already embroiled in the battle to spin the Ryan budget, Catholics committed to life issues are breathing a sigh of relief. Romney chose as his running mate an unquestionable ally of the unborn and of traditional marriage. Many Catholics who may have been reticent to give full-throated support to the Romney campaign may now feel that they can actively engage in the campaign.

While I have found that the aphorism, “the plural of anecdote is not data,” is reliably-true for other people’s anecdotes, my anecdote must suffice for data in this case. During the primary process, quite a few of my Catholic friends and I wholeheartedly supported Rick Santorum, primarily due his stance on life. In truth, we wanted almost anybody but Romney. After Romney secured the nomination, my enthusiasm for Romney did not grow but was simply replaced by the “anybody but Obama” sentiment.

Now I can profess that I am much more comfortable with the Romney-Ryan ticket.

In a race that many feel will be decided by the enthusiasm of major or even minor voting blocks, this added comfort and enthusiasm might make all the difference. As for the rest of those Catholics, they just go with the flow anyway.