Opinion

Why Obama is losing ground with Catholics

Photo of Ashley McGuire & Maureen Ferguson
Ashley McGuire & Maureen Ferguson
The Catholic Association
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      Ashley McGuire & Maureen Ferguson

      Ashley McGuire is a senior fellow at The Catholic Association. Maureen Ferguson is a senior policy adviser at The Catholic Association.

The Obama campaign’s conspicuous focus on single women voters continues to cause a significant backlash among Catholic voters — especially the “Catholics-in-the-pews” who comprise a large proportion of the battleground states’ swing voters.

At the heart of this issue is of course the Obama administration’s Health and Human Services mandate that forces religious employers to pay for morally objectionable goods and services as part of their healthcare coverage.

Despite a massive — and misleading — administration campaign claiming mandate opponents’ concerns have been “accommodated,” a recent poll by The Catholic Association (TCA) found the mandate was opposed by 72% of Catholics who attend church regularly — and by 66% of all Catholics.

Galvanized by Cardinal Timothy Dolan and the Church’s leadership, Catholics have become united in defense of religious freedom to an unprecedented degree.

According to the same poll, over two-thirds (67%) of Catholics who attend church regularly agree “the Obama administration has gone too far in placing restrictions on religious freedom when implementing their programs and policies.”

Not surprisingly, the Obama campaign’s reaction to its shrinking share of Catholic support has been to ignore the religious freedom issue and pin its hopes on its “liberal-agenda Catholics” (a.k.a. “social justice Catholics”) core supporters.

Viewers of the recent Democratic National Convention could be forgiven for thinking they were in a time warp back to the 1960s. On issue after issue — conscience rights, life, marriage, welfare reform — Democrats rejected even the minimalist compromises of the Bill Clinton era. Vice President Joe Biden’s convention speech did not even mention the fact that he was Catholic, an omission that was probably intended to placate the assembled crowd, which had roundly booed the inclusion of the word “God” in the Democratic Party’s platform. Contrast that with the TCA poll, which found that 86% of church-going Catholics believe “our rights come from nature and God, not government.”

Vice President Biden’s omission aside, the selection of Catholic Paul Ryan (R-WI) as Mitt Romney’s running mate has put the issue of Catholic teaching and its relation to public policy front and center in the national campaign debate.

Obama’s liberal-agenda Catholic supporters have tried to paint Ryan as somehow outside the Church’s teachings because of his budget work trying to control the ballooning federal deficit. Here too, however, it is the liberal-agenda Catholics who are well outside the main body of the Church on this “prudential” issue. The TCA poll found 72% of Catholics agreeing with Ryan that “America’s exploding federal debt hurts the poor the most.”

The liberal-agenda Catholics’ ad hominem attacks on Ryan also fall on deaf ears among the folks in the pews who resoundingly agree (71%) with the proposition that “Catholics can disagree about the best way to serve the poor — for example, favoring private charity over government programs — without being ‘bad’ Catholics.” Ryan’s own bishop has defended him against these politically motivated attacks on his faith.

This TCA survey is not an “outlier.” Even national pollsters agree Obama is receiving less Catholic support than in 2008.

As more and more Catholics focus on the fundamental issues on which President Obama has simply “gone too far,” be it restricting religious freedom, changing the definition of marriage, or aggressively crushing even the most modest pro-life measures, his already waning Catholic support is likely to crumble. Requiescat in pace.

Ashley McGuire is a senior fellow at The Catholic Association. Maureen Ferguson is a senior policy adviser at The Catholic Association.