.- An analysis of Catholic women during the 2012 election season shows significant levels of agreement with Church teaching on contraception, as well as unity with other Americans in being concerned about the economy.
“I think the data here paint an interesting picture of Catholic women, in that Catholic women are more likely to agree with the Catholic Church hierarchy on both the social justice issues and also the social issues such as abortion,” said Melissa Deckman, political science professor at Washington College.
In an Oct. 22 panel discussion at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Deckman analyzed how Catholics fit into “the gender gap in American presidential elections.”
The women’s vote is historically important, she said, noting that there are more women registered to vote and likely to vote than men in the U.S.
For decades, women have preferred Democratic candidates, she explained, and this held true in the 2008 election, in which Obama received 56 percent of the women’s vote while only receiving 49 percent of the men’s vote. In contrast, Republican candidate John McCain received only 43 percent of the women’s vote.
“This summer, it looked as though Obama was likely to maintain a double digit advantage among women voters come November, but polls in recent weeks demonstrate that the race for women voters is tightening,” Deckman said.
Despite the recent focus on the “women’s issues” of abortion and free employer-funded contraception, she observed that “women have been more likely to vote Democratic not because of reproductive rights issues, historically, but because of their attitudes about the social safety net.”
Polls indicate that women are more supportive of government providing benefits to those in need than men are, she explained.
Recently released polls by the Public Religion Research Institute show that among all Americans – men and women, Catholics and non-Catholics – the economy is the most important factor in determining one’s choice of presidential candidate, Deckman said.
The second most prominent issue is health care, which American women are more likely than men to pick as their most influencing factor in voting for president.
And while only four percent of Americans list abortion as the most important issue in determining their choice of presidential candidate, Deckman pointed out that Catholic women are more than twice as likely as men to choose it as their primary consideration.
Many of these women are pro-life, she added, as Catholic women are the most likely group of poll respondents to say that abortion should be illegal in all cases.
Catholic women are also more likely to oppose the federal contraception mandate when it is applied to religious hospitals and similar institutions, she said.
Deckman acknowledged that “in recent weeks, the Romney campaign has been able to close the gap” that exists between the genders.
In a campaign with a heavy economic focus, this may be the result of “the Romney campaign’s emphasis on how the economy’s affecting women – namely that there are more women in poverty under the Obama administration, and the recession has hit women harder in terms of job loss,” she said.
Other speakers on the panel explained that while the Catholic vote has long been considered an important swing vote in determining the outcome of elections, it is white Catholics who identify as politically moderate and are the true swing group within the Catholic community.
In such a tight race, predictions are difficult to make, the panelists said, but Catholics who fit into this swing category – including the women whose vote is being emphatically pursued by both candidates – could make a difference on Nov. 6.