Studying the Catholic vote

Catholics are in a tight race with white evangelical Protestants for the most closely analyzed segment of the electorate.

Public Religion Research reports the following via Faith in Public Life:

Obama beat McCain soundly among Catholics (55% – 44%), performing better than Kerry in 2004 and Gore in 2000

* Among white Catholics, Obama narrowed the Republican advantage from Bush’s 13-point advantage (56% – 43%), with McCain holding only a 5-points advantage (52% -47%).

* In a few key states, Obama made significant gains.

In FL, Catholics swung from the Republican party to the Democratic party. Obama improved upon Kerry’s Catholic performance by 16 percentage points, from trailing by 15 points in 2004 (57% – 42%) to leading by 1 point (50% – 49%) in 2008.

In IN, a 13-point GOP advantage in 2004 (56%-43%) disappeared, with Catholics split evenly between the candidates (50%-50%).

However, in PA, McCain won Catholics 54%-46%, increasing GOP advantage from Bush’s margin of 52%-48%.

The Catholic Bishop of Scranton was especially active on the Republican side in the run-up to the election. However, heavily Catholic Lackawanna Country, the largest jurisdiction in his diocese, went for Barack Obama by roughly 66,500 to 39,200.

Michael Paulson of The Boston Globe writes:

There must be a lot of disappointed Catholic bishops this morning — dozens of them issued statements over the last few weeks suggesting that abortion should be the primary issue for Catholic voters, and yet it appears that a majority of Catholic voters opted for the abortion-rights supporting candidate in the race, Barack Obama, and helped him win the presidency. Obama’s running mate, Joseph Biden, will become the first Catholic vice-president, but he, too, is a supporter of abortion rights.

Both he and the team at the Dallas Morning News blog feature the analysis of Father Tom Reese of the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, who wrote:

A closer look at the exit polls should be as discouraging for left-wing Catholics as for right-wing Catholics. Catholic voters did not embrace either the conservative non-negotiables or the church’s preferential option for the poor. They were concerned about themselves and their families.

Will the abortion debate rise up again in four years at the next presidential election? A lot depends on President Obama and the Democratic Congress. If they push through the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), then they will have betrayed their pro-life Catholic supporters. This will make it nearly impossible for these people to support them again. On the other hand, if they make a priority the enactment of an abortion reduction bill, then it will be more difficult for the bishops and the Republicans to portray the Democrats as the pro-abortion party.

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