Friday, September 28, 2012

Big News: Obama and Democrats Enjoying Wide Lead Among Catholics

The big news now vis-a-vis Catholics and politics in the U.S.: as Daniel Burke reports at Religion News Service, a Pew Research Center poll conducted on 16 September shows Obama leading Romney among American Catholics by 54-39 percent.  As Burke notes, this widening lead is despite the U.S. bishops' "fortnight for freedom" shock-and-awe events this summer, and despite Romney's having selected Catholic Paul Ryan as his running mate.

The same story reports that Romney's support has inched up from 69 to 74 percent among white evangelicals since July.  National Catholic Reporter carried Burke's RNS story yesterday, and a thread at the NCR site is now discussing the story.

Andrew Sullivan parses the Pew data as follows:

A small word of thanks to Cardinal Dolan, Robert George and K-Lo for helping shift the Catholic vote massively toward Obama with their summer campaign for religious liberty. And special thanks to Paul Ryan. No actual Catholic could ever find anything but puerile cruelty in the works of Ayn Rand, or rally to the idea that home-care for the elderly should be sacrificed to reduce tax rates for the super-rich. Paul Ryan believes that the basic principles of Rand can be compatible with Catholicism. American Catholics are just not that dumb or confused about their faith.

Sullivan notes that all polls conducted since 16 September show Obama pulling even further ahead of Romney in most demographics, following the release of the video in which Romney disses the 47 percent while meeting with elite donors in Florida.  I take it that his reason for noting this fact is to suggest that it's entirely possible Obama is favored by Catholic voters at an even higher rate now than in mid-September.

At Religion Dispatches, Sarah Posner notes that the Pew polling results defy predictions that Catholics would rally to their tribal leaders and vote GOP this fall to punish Obama for his perceived attacks on Catholic religious freedom with the HHS guidelines, and that the president's endorsement of marriage equality would erode his support among religious voters across the board.  

Posner writes,

The data—which is, should be noted, from registered, not likely voters—raises questions about whether Catholic voters were swayed by the Bishops’ "Fortnight for Freedom" or by any of the bishops’ worst rhetoric, such as that of the Archbishop of Springfield, Illinois, Thomas John Paprocki, who, as Right Wing Watch reported, said that Democrats support “intrinsic evil” and anyone voting for such a candidate puts their “soul in serious jeopardy.”

The Pew story about Catholic voters is also being discussed right now at threads begun by Eduardo Peñalver at Commonweal, by Michael O'Loughlin at America's "In All Things" blog, and by John Aravosis at Americablog Gay.

These polling data seem to me to knock a big hole in the rhetoric about the "Democrats' "Catholic problem" constantly tossed about by Catholic media gurus like Michael Sean Winters.  Throughout the current campaign, Winters has continued to use the purported "Catholic problem" of the Democrats and the threat of the loss of Catholic votes as a cudgel with which to beat the Democrats about the head insofar as they endorse women's, gay, and reproductive rights.  Winters developed the meme that the Democrats had lost Catholic voters by turning left on these issues in his book Left at the Altar: How the Democrats Lost the Catholic Vote and How the Catholics Can Save the Democrats (2008).  He has continued to push the Democrats' "Catholic problem" thesis at NCR with essays like his April 2009 essay entitled "President Obama's Catholic Problem."

As I've said repeatedly here, Catholic centrists pushing this meme do so primarily to try to keep the Democrats in line (that is, to keep the Democrats toeing their own conservative Catholic line) on women's issues, abortion, and issues of sexual morality.  Catholic centrists spouting the "Catholic problem" thesis have sought to position themselves as powerbrokers representing "the" Catholic voice  in the mainstream meida, as a firewalll against progressive voices within the Democratic party and within the Catholic church itself.  They and other "faith-based" media gurus with whom they maintain close contact in beltway media circles have persistently sought to marginalize progressive voices within their various religious traditions, while warning the Democrats that they'd lose faith-based voters if they stepped left on women's issues, gay rights issues, and issues having to do with reproductive freedom.

But as Paul Krugman notes in a posting this week at his New York Times blog site, it is precisely the radicalism of the Republican party right now, with its attack on women's rights, reproductive rights, and gay rights, that has many American voters running scared of the GOP.  As Krugman notes, the willingness of the Democrats to come out of the closet and support such rights in the current election cycle has worked to their advantage and not to their disadvantage, despite the recurrent warnings of the faith-based centrist firewall crowd that the Democrats will lose Catholic and other faith-based voters by moving left on these issues.

And as Frank Cocozzelli notes at Talk to Action, it is precisely because and not despite our Catholic beliefs that many of us who are Catholic cannot stomach Paul Ryan's Randianism with its substitution of the dollar sign for the cross.

I suspect that in this election cycle we're seeing a slow turning within the American Catholic electorate that will marginalize the centrist commentators who have claimed for so long to speak on behalf of all of us American Catholics in powerful media circles.  Their thesis--that the Democrats have a serious "Catholic problem" insofar as they move in a progressive direction in areas having to do with women's rights, gay rights, and sexual morality--looks more than a little bit silly this election cycle, given the current Pew polling data.

And yet even now, after the Pew results have been released, Mr. Winters soldiers valiantly on at NCR with another mystifying defense of smilin' Tim Dolan, of whom Winters tells us once again he's a "big fan" in an essay today.  Timothy Dolan who laughs and makes others laugh, Winters tells us.  Timothy Dolan who is human and "connects with people."  And who "is smart and smart saves a person from much foolishness."

God save us from our defenders.  It's mind-boggling that Winters could pen these lines the day after important polling data demonstrate the fatuity (and downright stupidity) of the wildly partisan, excessively mean-spirited "fortnight for freedom" campaign.  Of which smilin' Tim was the head honcho, chief organizer, and primary spokesperson.  Smilin' Tim of the smarts and laughs and wide humanity.

Whose leadership American Catholic voters appear to be finding less than smart, funny, and humane, as they choose precisely the opposite candidate from the one smilin' Tim and his brother bishops have instructed us to select in this election . . . .

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