A new survey from Rasmussen Reports shows that Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain is leading Democratic Sen. Barack Obama among Catholic voters in the key swing state of Ohio 51 percent to 43 percent.
McCain leads Obama among all Ohio voters by 48 to 47 percent, a statistical tie within the September 28 poll’s margin of error.
According to Rasmussen, 57 percent of Catholic voters named economic issues the most important, while 15 percent named national security issues the most important.
Catholic voters are positioned to be an important swing demographic in Ohio.
According to the Columbus Dispatch, Ohio has more than 2 million Catholics. The Catholic vote is particularly strong in western Ohio in the Dayton area and the 13 rural counties north and east of the city. There are more than 500,000 Catholics in that area, more than in any part of the state except Cleveland.
While about one in four Ohio voters is Catholic, they tend to have a higher turnout rate.
Rev. John Putka, a Marianist priest and political science professor at the University of Dayton, told the Columbus Dispatch that the Catholic vote is “going to decide the election.”
He broke the Catholic vote into three blocs: observants, modernists, and secularists.
According to Father Putka, “observants” are conservative, attend church regularly, and typically vote Republican based on abortion and other social issues. They supported George W. Bush over John Kerry in 2004 by 65 to 35 percent.
"McCain's selection of Palin totally galvanized this pro-life group," Fr. Putka observed. "They were lukewarm before but not now.”
“Modernists,” in Father Putka’s classification, go to church less frequently and are less guided by Catholic beliefs. Their numbers include some “Reagan Democrats” and are sometimes called “cafeteria Catholics” because of their selective adherence to Catholic doctrine.
“Secularists” include those who go to church rarely and are not typically guided by Catholic beliefs. These voters heavily voted for Kerry and are likely to support the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama.
Of these three groups, Father Putka said modernists are the true swing vote.