A new poll shows Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain leading his Democratic counterpart Sen. Barack Obama by a 16 percent margin among Catholics who attend church weekly. Some of McCain’s new strength is being attributed to his selection of running mate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
The results of the Pew Research Center’s survey of 2,307 likely voters were released on Thursday. The survey claims a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percent.
The survey shows McCain leading Obama among Catholics who attend church weekly 52 to 36 percent, differing from August results which showed the group slightly preferring McCain by 45 to 42 percent.
Catholics who attend church less than weekly are almost evenly split, preferring Obama by 46 to 45 percent. In August, the same group of Catholics preferred Obama over McCain by 46 to 44 percent.
Scott Keeter, director of survey research at Pew Research Center, told the Christian Science Monitor that the selection of Governor Palin was “the big part” of the shift among Catholics.
He said Palin’s large family and her bearing her fifth child despite his diagnosis of Down syndrome embodies pro-life beliefs preferred by many observant Catholics. He added that McCain’s selection of Palin also reassured observant Catholic voters on “a whole constellation of values issues that are important to conservative Christians.”
David Campbell, a political scientist at the University of Notre Dame, told the Christian Science Monitor that neither frequent Mass attending Catholics nor inobservant Catholics would swing the election.
“In the middle, however, is a fairly large group of Catholics who still think of themselves as Catholic and they still go to church periodically,” Campbell said.
Lara Brown, a political scientist at Villanova University, said Palin could help close the so-called “gender gap.”
Explaining to the Christian Science Monitor that Catholic men gradually moved to the Republican Party, with Catholic women staying with the Democrats, “Palin gives these women who are culturally conservative an opportunity to say, ‘Wow, someone represents me.’”