Gerald Seib of the Wall Street Journal is beginning to wonder:
If you want to find the absolute center in American politics, you could do worse than look at the nation’s Catholic vote.
In nine of the past 10 presidential elections, the Catholic vote has gone with the candidate who ultimately won the election. Five times it has gone to a Republican; five times to a Democrat. In five of those elections, the percentage of the Catholic vote taken by the winner has been within a single percentage point of the share he won overall.
In 2008, 54% of Catholics went for President Barack Obama and he won; in 2010, 54% voted Republican, and the GOP took control of the House. In short, Catholic voters, who make up about a quarter of the electorate, represent the ultimate swing vote, and they rank right up there with the state of Ohio as a bellwether of presidential-election outcomes. Which is why President Barack Obama has to be worried about the reaction to his administration’s decision that could compel many Catholic institutions, like other employers, to offer contraception services in health policies.
The harshly negative reaction of the church’s bishops—important allies of the president’s on other matters, notably immigration reform—is one thing. The bigger question is whether rank-and-file Catholics, even the majority who tend to disagree with church teaching on contraception, will view the administration’s actions as a case of overreach.
As a result, the administration now faces a delicate question of whether to mend fences, seek a new compromise or assume the flap will blow over without affecting broader Catholic views.