Analyst: Obama could lose Catholic vote over HHS mandate

Vote Voting CNA US Catholic News 10 4 11

The growing Catholic outcry against a recent health insurance mandate could threaten President Obama’s support “among a key group of swing voters that was critical to his victory in 2008,” political writer George Condon says. 

According to an analysis released by the Pew Research Center on Feb. 2, Catholics have shifted away from the Democratic Party since the 2008 election.

George E. Condon, Jr., a political writer for the nonpartisan National Journal, wrote in a Feb. 1 article that although Obama won the Catholic vote in the 2008 election, recent dissatisfaction among Catholics could be detrimental to his 2012 efforts for a second term. 

Condon tied Obama’s change in political fortune to the Jan. 20 announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services that virtually all employers will be required to purchase health insurance that includes coverage for sterilization and contraception, as well as the drug Ella, which can cause early abortions.

The very narrow religious exemption to the mandate requires an organization to exist for the purpose of inculcating religious values and to restrict employment and its services primarily to fellow believers.

The administration refused to broaden the exemption despite thousands of complaints from religious hospitals, schools and charitable agencies that objected to the mandate but were open to serving members of all faiths. 

In less than two weeks, the decision has been denounced in thousands of Catholic churches across America, and several bishops stated that they would refuse to comply with the “unconscionable” and “unjust” regulation.

According to Condon, the mandate provoked an “explosion of anger” and has left many Catholics feeling disappointed with President Obama.

Many Catholics who supported Obama in the 2008 election and defended his controversial appearance at Notre Dame in 2009 are also now left disillusioned by the realization that Obama does not understand “Catholic sensitivities,” as they had thought.

Condon said that although not all Catholics follow the Church’s teaching on birth control, the “American Catholic backlash” against the mandate has united the Church in a fight against a government attempt to regulate its ministries and employees.

The united Catholic opposition could be damaging to Obama’s chances for reelection, he said, observing that in 2010, Catholics made up 25 percent of the American population and were a “big swing vote in the key political states.”

Surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center over the last year show a significant shift in the Catholic electorate away from the Democratic Party. 

In 2008, 37 percent of Catholic registered voters either identified with or leaned towards the Republican Party, while 53 percent favored the Democratic Party.

By 2011, those numbers had changed significantly, with 43 percent favoring the Republican Party and 48 percent identifying more closely with the Democratic Party.

An even further shift has occurred among white Catholics who attend Mass every week.
In 2008, this demographic was evenly split, with 45 percent favoring each political party.

But in 2011, 52 percent favored the Republicans and just 40 percent identified more with the Democrats.

The Pew analysis indicates that Catholic voters are not alone in this trend. It finds that “the share of voters identifying with or leaning toward the GOP has either grown or held steady in every major religious group,” including those that have traditionally tended to align more closely with the Democratic Party.

Condon explained that Catholics being upset at the Obama administration over the new mandate could play a significant role in the upcoming election.

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He stated that “the clout of the Catholic vote is unquestioned,” with only one candidate winning the presidency without it since 1972. 

He also pointed out that over 50 of the bishops who have spoken out “represent dioceses in what will be battleground states in the election” and that many of these states have large Catholic populations.

Catholics are also highly concentrated in about a dozen battleground states, including New Jersey (41 percent), Wisconsin (30 percent), Pennsylvania (28 percent), and Ohio (18 percent).

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