Senior Fellow in Religion and American Politics, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
10/30/2008 - Surveys by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press show that white, non-Hispanic Catholic support for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama has grown, taking him from a 13-percentage-point deficit in late September to an 8-point lead in late October. Pew Forum Senior Fellow John Green looks behind these numbers to identify some of the factors that may be driving this shift. He also explains how state ballot initiatives on gay marriage might impact the presidential election and analyzes the response of white evangelicals and others to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential candidate.
John Green, Senior Fellow in Religion and American Politics, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
Mark O'Keefe, Associate Director, Web Editorial, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
Question & Answer:
Pew Forum tracking of surveys by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press shows that Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain had a 13-percentage-point lead among white Catholic registered voters in late September. But the group’s support for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama grew in October, giving Obama an 8-point lead in late October. What might explain this shift?
Perhaps the best explanation for the recent shift among white Catholics is the presidential campaign itself. If one looks inside the numbers, the largest part of the shift was among white Catholic independents, with only modest changes among white Catholics who identify as Republicans or Democrats. Independents are the voters one would expect to shift the most in the midst of a presidential campaign.
A factor that may have moved these independents, as well as perhaps some of the partisan Catholics, is the financial situation, including the financial collapse on Wall Street and the government bailout of financial institutions. Like many Americans, white Catholics have listed the economy as an issue that would be very important to their candidate choice all year long, going way back to the presidential primaries. These recent economic calamities may have led many white Catholics, particularly independents, to connect their economic priorities to their choice for president in a way that favors Obama over McCain.
During this same time period, other things were going on as well, and one of those things was increased dissatisfaction with the McCain campaign. Among white Catholics – as well as among other Americans – we see a decline in positive views of the McCain campaign, perhaps associated with some of the perceived negative advertising but also some of the criticism of that advertising in the press. There has also been an increased acceptance of Obama, with more Americans – including more white Catholics – being able to picture him as serving in the Oval Office.
A final possibility related to the campaign is that Obama has enjoyed an enormous advantage in campaign resources. These resources have made it possible for him to communicate with many voters, including white Catholics, in an effective way.
Read the complete Q & A Will Obama Win the White Catholic Vote? on the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life Web site.