Friday, September 21, 2012

Catholics Ignoring Bishops, Trending Democratic As U.S. Elections Near: Polling Data, My Reflections

Snatching a free moment later in the day to catch up on news-reading--and to post the following:

At his Queering the Church site, Terry Weldon notes that a Pew Forum survey just released shows Catholics in the U.S. breaking for Obama in the 2012 elections--this despite months and months of incessant, blowzy, overheated rhetoric by the U.S. Catholic bishops about purported (and completely imaginary) attacks of the Obama administration on Catholics' religious freedom.  (Even now, John Allen at National Catholic Reporter continues shamefully to beat the papal drum about these imaginary attacks--but see the wonderful corrective comments in the thread following Allen's piece by Jerry Slevin and Petrus Romanus.)

At the Commonweal blog site, J. Peter Nixon also has a posting with a thread following it re: the Pew Forum polling data.

Terry's valuable summary of the Pew findings:

  • Catholic voters support Obama ahead of Romney by a 16% margin: 54% to 39%.
  • Catholic support has increased, particularly over the six months since April: from 45% (when he lagged 5 points behind Romney) to 54% – a net turnaround of 21%.
  • The Catholic support, and its increase, is seen among all Catholics, and also in the White sub-sample (where it is higher than any either specified religious group).

As Terry concludes,

We also need to consider – why the disparity between partisan support by the bishops, and by other Catholics? Could it be that the bishops’ concerns are based on sexual matters, and especially contraception and gay marriage – and other Catholics are more concerned with issues around justice and support for the poor- as taught in the Gospels? 
Just asking.

I think Terry's absolutely on the right track to ask these questions.  I find it interesting to read the Pew Forum results side by side with the hot-off-the-press findings of the Public Religion Research Institute study entitled "Beyond Gods and Guns: Understanding the Complexities of the White Working Class in America."  As Joan Walsh notes at Salon, this study shows the white working class much less typically conservative than many of us have tended to think--with one exception: Southern white working-class citizens continue to trend much more strongly conservative on one issue after another than their counterparts in the rest of the nation.

The PRRI study finds

  • In mid-August, Romney was leading by 40 points among white working-class voters in the South. In other parts of the country, neither candidate had a commanding lead among working-class voters in the same time frame.
  • White working-class citizens in the South are far more likely to live in households with firearms  than are their counterparts in other parts of the country. 
  • There is far greater opposition to same-sex marriage among Southern white working-class folks than among white working-class Americans in other regions. While only 32% of white working-class Southerners favor permitting gay and lesbian people to marry, 44% do so in the Midwest, 47% in the West, and 57% in the Northeast.
  • "White working-class Americans in the West (40%), Midwest (48%), and Northeast (48%) are less likely than white working-class Americans in the South (58%) to believe that over the past few decades, the government has paid too much attention to the problems of blacks and other minorities."

To repeat: the PRRI study shows that working-class whites in the South (and that's to say, largely evangelical people) are far and away the most solid GOP bloc among working-class voters.  White Southern working-class voters are also far and away more opposed to gay marriage than their counterparts elsewhere.  They are also more inclined to be hostile to immigrants and to those they imagine to be sponging off the government.

And from these data I conclude that the U.S. bishops have made a costly bargain--I'm tempted, in fact, to call it a bargain with the devil--in allying themselves with the religious right in the latter decades of the 20th century and the first part of the 21st century.  In allying themselves with the religious right, whose base is among precisely those Southern white working-class evangelicals whose attitudes and beliefs differ significantly from the attitudes and beliefs of their white working-class counterparts in the rest of the nation--many of whom are Catholic . . . .  The bishops have allied themselves with what turns out to be a very narrow constituency of those who do not, in fact, reflect or support what have traditionally been considered core "Catholic values" in any area other than sexual morality.

The bishops' carefully crafted political alliance with white evangelical Southerners who constitute the foot soldiers of the religious right, and their willingness to walk lockstep with the religious right in its anointing of the GOP as God's party, are seriously eroding any moral credibility the Catholic bishops have left.  This alliance has assured that the bishops are increasingly marginalizing themselves as the power of the religious-right demographic on which they've pinned their hopes wanes . . . 

While a majority of American Catholics, including Hispanic Catholics, the growing demographic edge of American Catholicism, simply ignore the mitered gentlemen as they play at politics.  And as they yammer on about their religious freedom being under attack.

As they yammer on about this even as they try to restrict the religious freedom of everyone who doesn't buy into their anti-contraceptive, anti-women, and anti-gay agenda!

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