Catholic cities aren’t liberal?

The New York Times’ City Room blog is inviting readers to "Name America’s Most Liberal City," in response to Rudy Giuliani’s campaign commerical giving the title to the Big Apple. Boston gets a couple of shout-outs, but Cambridge is mentioned more often. I offer no answer, maybe because I was struck by this non sequitur in blogger Sewall Chan’s argument that New York might not be on the far left:

But on social issues — including identity rights, gay rights and abortion rights — the city is less predictably liberal, Dr. Mollenkopf said. About 45 percent of the city’s residents are Roman Catholic, including about 15 percent of the black population. A large majority of the city’s Latino population is Catholic, at least nominally. Other segments of the population — like the large population of Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn — are also socially conservative.

I don’t see how the percentage of the city that’s Catholic is relevant when every major poll that I’ve seen for years indicates that, on average, Catholics are no more conservative (or liberal) than the electorate as a whole. According to CNN, Catholics voted for George Bush over John Kerry by a 52-47 margin in 2004, which was statistically insignificant from the 51-48 margin by which he won the election (and far his 59-40 margin among Protestants). Also according to CNN, Al Gore beat Bush by a 50-47 margin among Catholics, which was slightly better than Gore’s performance overall. And a 2003 CBS News poll indicated that Catholics have no particular slant on the issue of abortion:

Catholics and Protestants in the survey held roughly the same views on the issue. 36% of Catholics believe abortion should be generally available, and 34% of Protestants agree. 27% of Catholics think abortion should not be permitted, and 24% of Protestants believe this, as well.

I know that there’s a compulsion to characterize every demographic group in America as a bloc that consistently leans one way or another, but right now Catholics don’t fit that model, and it’s meaningless to deduce anything politically from how Catholic a city is.