The indefatigable Kathryn Lopez notes, below, the new Pew poll that shows President Obama in freefall among Catholic voters: going from 9 points ahead a month ago to 5 points behind today. As Ramesh Ponnuru dryly notes about the poll, “Obama could be starting to have a Catholic problem.”
Since I have often written that there is no discernable Catholic vote—that, statistically, Catholic voting patterns are lost in the general noise of American elections—I take the Pew results a little personally.
We’d need, for real analysis, a little more information than the first release from Pew gives. (I’d like to see, for example, the breakdown of likely voters, which is consistently more predictive.) But, at first glance, the poll is interesting. Abortion is low on the list of issues that voters find pressing, but among those who rank abortion as a top concern, Romney is at +2 (which is the advantage that pro-life candidates have consistently held over non-pro-life candidates for years among single-issue voters).
Romney is at only +1 on energy, which surprises me. I would have thought the Republicans had pushed through on this issue. Budget deficit = Romney +19, yes; health care = Obama + 15, no surprise.
Birth control breaks for Obama +19, which is exactly why his political advisors pushed the political strategy of transforming all abortion questions issue into birth-control questions. This, I believe, is what the HHS mandate was actually about: an entirely political decision to force Republicans to denounce birth control and then to mock them as all “weird.”
Even among Catholics, bans on birth control don’t poll well. For that matter, the handful of Catholics who would fit the White House’s caricature of weirdos weren’t ever going to vote Obama—which means that Pew’s claimed 14-point swing against Obama among Catholics can’t be coming from them. It has to be coming instead from the Catholics whose votes are, more usually, lost in the two-pole choice of a national presidential election.
At this point, we’d need some follow-up polling to find out why. Conversion on the birth-control issue? Unlikely. Reframing of the HHS mandate from a birth-control issue to a religious-freedom issue? Possible, even probable. Catholic’s tribal sense of being under attack? Hmmm . . .
The tribal Catholic vote is the one that I’ve often claimed has disappeared. If it’s back—and, I reiterate, we don’t know—what a change that would make: President Obama’s HHS mandate would have succeeded at achieving something at which the bishops failed. Something the Catholic schools could not achieve. Something an entire generation of Catholic politicians have assumed is impossible.