Oh, that Catholic Vote

Print More

The pope’s coming to town, so it’s a good time to ponder whither the Catholic vote this primary season.
Newsday has a story on Obama’s troubles with Catholics, wherein your correspondent is quoted as a lonely voice suggesting (again, for readers of this blog) that there’s less there than meets the eye. The big piece of evidence for this is a Gallup poll of March 24, which shows Obama trailing Clinton among white Protestants 34 percent to 56 percent, and among white Catholics by 34 percent to 56 percent–in a word, by exactly the same amount. What makes Protestants and Catholics look so different in the aggregate is that the “rest” of America’s Catholics are Latinos (who prefer Clinton) and the “rest” of America’s Protestants are African Americans, who adore Obama. Meanwhile, according to that poll, Clinton and Obama split the Jewish vote and Obama is way ahead with those of non-Judeo-Christian faiths and those of no religion. So my point has been that Obama’s big problem when it comes to religion is with white Christians, not with Catholics.
But one poll should not be taken as dispositive, and so I decided to take a look at a dozen primary states with sufficient numbers of Catholic and Protestants, to see how Obama has fared as between white Catholics and white Protestants. Here are the results (the first number is his percentage of the white Catholic vote, the second, his percentage of the white Protestant vote.
California: 37, 36
Connecticut: 39, 55
Georgia: 44, 37
Illinois: 46, 56
Massachusetts: 31, 44
Missouri: 46, 40
New Jersey 26, 32
New York: 31, 40
Ohio: 34, 30
Texas: 41, 40
Virginia: 49, 50
Wisconsin 50, 58
Overall, Obama’s support among white Catholics (WCs) ranges from 26 percent to 50 percent; his support among white Protestants (WPs), 30 percent to 58 percent. In six states (CT, MA, IL, NJ, NY, WI), he did better among WPs than among WCs. In three states (GA, MO, OH), he did better among WCs than among WPs. And in three states (CA, TX, VA), he did equally well (or poorly) among both groups. What all this suggests is that Gallup is probably about right: In the aggregate, white Protestants and Catholics support Obama at just about the same rate. This aggregate picture, however, disguises many differences, both among Catholics and Protestants. It’s pretty clear, for example, that in the Northweast, the mainliners who dominate the Protestant world are more likely to give Obama their support than the working class and lower middle class Catholics (who overwhelmingly still, uh, cling to the Democratic party). This kind of analysis should be pursued state by state, region by region. And the bottom line is, this is the kind of mixed picture that gives journalists fits.