A consortium of left-wing Christian organizations has released a report on the reasons voters gave for how they cast their ballots in the recent election. Although the poll finds that Americans have rejected a “narrow agenda,” the Archdiocese of Denver says the report has “little value” because it is skewed by the preconceptions of the groups that commissioned the survey.
The newly released survey, which questioned 1,277 voters, was conducted November 5-7 by Public Religion Research for the groups Faith in Public Life, Sojourners and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.
While noting that only 21 percent of white evangelicals voted for Barack Obama, the consortium pointed to their finding that “nearly double” (39%) say he is friendly to religion and shares their values.
Dr. Robert P. Jones, President of Public Religion Research interpreted the results of his organization’s survey as showing that Americans desire to reclaim a “broader agenda,” a description that closely echoes the post-election theme of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and its political allies.
Katie Paris, Director of Communications Strategy at Faith in Public Life, agreed with Jones’ reading: "People of faith are tired of the culture wars and hungry for common ground. Evangelical and Catholic voters are rejecting a narrow agenda and embracing the conviction that we must all work together – an approach that will enable the faith community to effect real progress on difficult issues in the days to come," she said.
Yet, the same Public Religion Research poll found that the major deciding factor for voters was the economy and not moral issues, with 70 percent of voters listing it as one of the top two issues they considered when they voted.
Democratic political analyst Mark Stricherz explained to CNA that far from the “rebalancing of political alignments” that Dr. Jones depicts as the outcome of the survey, he sees a more complicated picture.
“The country is in a recession. Of course, Americans are most worried about their jobs, homes, taxes, and health insurance. But their focus on the economic issue cuts both ways in terms of the social issue. They don't want more restrictions on abortion; yet they also don't want taxpayers to pay for more abortions and certainly don't want to eliminate all legal protections for unborn infants, as President-elect Obama has vowed to do under the Freedom of Choice Act,” Stricherz told CNA.
The national poll also touched on the issue of abortion, asking respondents to what extent they agreed or disagreed with the statement:
“Elected leaders on both sides of the abortion debate should work together to find ways to reduce the number of abortions by enacting policies that help prevent unintended pregnancies, expand adoption, and increase economic support for women who wish to carry their pregnancies to term.”
Of those voters surveyed, 83 percent (86 % of white evangelicals and 81% of Catholics) said that they would like to see politicians cooperate to reduce abortions.
This result, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and their partners say, should be interpreted to mean that pro-lifers should focus their efforts on economic and social measures to reduce abortion. Other thinkers who agree with this reasoning, such as Douglas Kmiec and Nicolas Cafardi, assert that the pro-life movement has failed in the legal arena, and that it should redirect its energies.
However, this past Wednesday the U.S. Catholic bishops rejected the notion that the pro-life movement has failed by assailing Roe v. Wade in their joint statement. “A good state protects the lives of all. Legal protection for those members of the human family waiting to be born in this country was removed when the Supreme Court decided Roe vs. Wade in 1973. This was bad law.”
Jeanette DeMelo, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Denver, dismissed the Catholics in Alliance survey and the groups’ conclusions in a statement to CNA on Friday. “This survey has little value, if any, because it is skewed by the preconceptions of the partisan, activist groups that commissioned the survey,” she said.
DeMelo also pointed out that “Archbishop Chaput has already said that groups like ‘Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good have done a disservice to the Church, confused the natural priorities of Catholic social teaching, undermined the progress pro-lifers have made, and provided an excuse for some Catholics to abandon the abortion issue instead of fighting within their parties and at the ballot box to protect the unborn’.”
Archbishop Chaput has taken particular issue with Catholics in Alliance’s attempts to give equal moral weight to the issue of abortion in its voter education materials.
In a mid-October speech, Archbishop Chaput described their agenda, saying, “All of them seek to ‘get beyond’ abortion, or economically reduce the number of abortions, or create a better society where abortion won’t be necessary. All of them involve a misuse of the seamless garment imagery in Catholic social teaching. And all of them, in practice, seek to contextualize, demote and then counterbalance the evil of abortion with other important but less foundational social issues.”