“Up for grabs”: a Democratic strategist on how to win the Catholic vote

Here’s another take on this election from Jim Arkedis of the Progressive Policy Institute.  It offers a window into how Democrats  are thinking about Catholics:

Catholics are up for grabs this year. A Gallup poll from April has President Obama and Mitt Romney tied among Catholics, 46 percent each. At nearly 20 percent of the population, Catholics have roughly mirrored the popular votein the last eight elections. They voted for Ronald Reagan and George Bush, but switched to Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996. In 2000, Catholics, like the country, went under 50 percent for George W. Bush; but against John Kerry,Bush took 52 percent; by 2008, they’d flipped to Barack Obama, 54-45.

It’s unclear whether the Obama campaign will specifically organize Catholic supporters or try to persuade moderate ones. This Monday, the campaign hired Michael Wear as its faith vote director. That’s an excellent first step, and Wear’s experience organizing faith-based outreach for Obama in 2008 and in the White House indicates that the Obama campaign is taking people who make their faith a priority seriously. Wear might have too much on his plate, however — the campaign Web site groups Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Southern Baptists and Muslims under a one-size-fits-all “Voters of Faith” outreach program. It’s a mistake to treat the Catholic vote just like the rest.

Perhaps no presidential candidate since John F. Kennedy has been able to unite this disparate flock. But President Obama’s task isn’t that tough. The key to winning the Catholic vote is to understand its composition — litmus-test abortion voters, moderates, women and Hispanics — and to aim to carry persuadable Catholics by healthy margins in crucial swing states. Failure to deliver them could cost the president re-election.

Recent events suggest that these vast groups of Catholic voters (again: women, moderates, Latinos) are now more open to a progressive faith-based message than they have been perhaps since Kennedy-Nixon. The Obama campaign should tread lightly, however, and resist any poll-driven urge to drive a wedge between the faithful and official church positions on women’s issues or same-sex marriage. Divisive messaging probably won’t fly among most Catholics, who may grumble about their religious leaders’ positions, but don’t seek overt separation from them. I can’t say that there’s any scientific evidence to support this theory, but it comes from my observations over a lifetime in the Catholic community.

The Obama campaign’s message should unequivocally stand with the church and Jesus Christ’s humble message of social justice, equality and inclusion. These are distinctly Catholic themes that draw sharp contrasts for Catholics who have tired of a Republican Party with less room for those who are not straight, male, white and self-sufficient…

…What would a Catholic voter outreach program look like? The Roman Catholic Church doesn’t exactly let political operatives walk in the front door and set up shop, but there are several progressive Catholic organizations — Catholics United, Catholics in Alliance, Catholic Democrats — that the campaign could engage first to build a volunteer corps. Within each district office, the campaign could identify Catholic precinct captains to recruit Catholic door-knockers to reach out to their friends from church. Then there’s advertising. It would be more difficult to construct this architecture from scratch, but however it’s done, it’s a must: a positive social justice message could be what tips the balance toward re-election for the president.

As a moderate Democrat and a Catholic, I disagree with my party when I say that I believe life begins at conception or that abortions should be performed only in cases of rape, incest or when a pregnancy threatens a mother’s life. In another era, those beliefs might have made me a Republican target. But I’m a Democrat, in part, because of the party’s deep belief in social justice: We’re the ones who make equality and inclusion central to our very being; we stick up for the little guy; we don’t believe everyone should fend for themselves all the time. That’s what Jesus said, and that’s the society President Obama wants to build.

Read it all.


  1. Bill Tooke says:

    Typical moderate Democrat squishiness that will get typically squishy Catholics to vote against their faith and ignore non-negotiables in order to deify ill-defined notions of “social justice”. Just as the Right mouths support for the prolife movement to push extreme individualism, greed and warmongering, the Left pushes emotion, feeling and being there for the little guy (which is a hypocritical joke) in order to push an overtly anti-Catholiclv agenda.

  2. ron chandonia says:

    The seminarians of ’73 (referenced above) and laymen of that same era learned from the post-conciliar Church to support “social justice,” but they had little training in what a just society should look like. Thanks to the furor over Humanae Vitae, hardly anyone even spoke of possible connections between issues of justice and what we now call the “hot-button social issues” like abortion and traditional marriage. So it is hardly surprising that so many Catholics, including some of our clergy, stand ready to embrace almost any cause endorsed by the media as progressive, even those that do great damage to the common good.

    Meanwhile, how are the poor faring? Thanks in part to the refusal of self-styled progressives to address dysfunctional patterns of sexual behavior and family life, or even to endorse an ethic of respect for hard work, the poor are mired in dependency on a myriad of confusing and demeaning government programs, and their ranks are increasing. Social justice is more elusive than ever.

  3. How, how, how can Catholics vote for Obama after he lied directly to Cardinal Dolan and imposed a healthcare mandate against Catholic conscience? It was amazing that he won a majority of Catholics in 2008 after being the most pro-abortion president in the history of this country, including supporting post birth murder. The fact that forty-something percent of Catholics will vote for this atrocious man is an outright disgrace.

  4. Barbara P says:

    Manny so you are going to vote for Mitt Romney who holds a $50,000 a person fundraiser at the home of Phil Frost, a top executive in the company that manufactures the Plan B Morning After pill?

  5. Romney is about as far from ideal as we can get.
    But Obama is about the worst we can fathom.

  6. Social justice to the Left is the same thing as the nativism that some on the Right have. A vague and nebulous concept rather than a program born out of emotion and zeal, rather than pragmatism. It’s the tyranny of nice. It’s refuting the notion of give a man a fish and he’ll be full for a day, teach him to fish and he’ll be full for a lifetime. It hurts way more than it helps.

  7. naturgesetz says:

    Well put, and that’s a great insight into the lack of understanding of what a just society really is.

    I wonder if anybody in the federal government since Daniel Patrick Moynihan has had any understanding of the causes of poverty.

  8. (1) I haven’t heard about that. (2) The $50,000 a plate is insignificant. Obama has the same thing. It’s the going thing in raising money. (3) Romney is pro-life and I expect him to be. Who he raises money from is also insignificant. (4) Obama has been the worst thing for Catholics and religious people. Now that he’s “evolved” on gay marriage, add another strike at the heart of religion in this country.

    And let me repeat this. Obama is not just pro abortion. He’s for murdering children born live from a failed abortion attempt. If anyone can vote for that, they should renounce their Christianity.

  9. There is a maximum five year limit on TANF, formerly ADC. No cash assistance (lifetime) after that. Perhaps food assistance and Medicaid is too much?

  10. Barbara P says:

    The fundraiser is being reported on today. I thought the Catholic position is that Plan B is an abortifacient? So how do you justify Romney’s fundraising relationship with Mr Frost as pro life? I’m not going to get into a debate with you on the President’s vote on the Chicagr bill you reference except to say you mischaraterized the bill and the President’s vote. I’m not sure who I am going to vote for yet – I am not satisfied with either.

  11. Bar Fowler says:

    I’m afraid some of the commenters are not as familiar with Phil Frost and his company as they should be. One important drug the company is behind which is currently undergoing clinical studies is a blood-based diagnostic test for Alzheimer’s disease. If the studies prove it works, what a tremendous benefit to society it would be! The quality of my aunt’s life, had she been diagnosed with ease and at an earlier point in her life, would certainly have been be better. The company has also developed its own diagnostic screening system for prostate cancer…gosh, perhaps Phil Frost is not a monster afterall. Come on, folks, do some research.

  12. Donal Mahoney says:

    I cannot imagine any informed Catholic voting for Obama. If one cannot bring oneself to vote for the GOP nominee, one can stay home. The only thing I am certain about this year is that I will not vote for Obama. Nevertheless, I expect to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing at the Inauguration.

  13. Fundraising has nothing to do with positions. Romney is taking a lot of money from pro-life groups too. His position is pro-life. He better stay with it. We know what Obama’s positions are and have been and will be. I don’t think pro-life groups are supporting Obama finacially or with votes. Look over what the pro-life groups think of Obama. See who they endorse.

  14. Barbara P says:

    Fundraising has everything to do with access and influence.

  15. oldestof9 says:

    A few days ago, I posted a question on the Anchoress’s post about deciding between a faithful gay priest and an unfaithful straight priest and was chastised. People thought that deciding between (2) wrongs wasn’t how we should have to make good decisions.
    Well guess what everyone who votes is going to do?

    Peace to all

  16. ron chandonia says:

    It’s not a matter of “too much” or too little in government subsidies for people who live on the margins of society. The problem is that our approach to social justice since the days of the Great Society has ignored the very essence of subsidiarity: increasing the participation of the poor in the mainstream of American life. Bureaucrats sometimes mouth the rhetoric of empowerment, but children who are raised in dysfunctional homes, attend dysfunctional schools, and reside in dysfunctional communities rarely if ever become captains of their own destiny. They and their offspring are fated to remain wards of the state.

  17. Barbara, let me repeat: “Romney is taking a lot of money from pro-life groups too.” You want to bet whether Obama is getting money from pro-life groups? I bet he isn’t. Therefore, Obama has no access to pro-life groups.

  18. Barbara P. says:

    access goes the other way – fundraising and campaign contributions provide a group or individual access to the office. Has Romney ever said whether he considers Plan B an abortifacient? I wonder what his answer would be.

  19. So if Phil Frost treated all his employees well but refused (let’s say for example) to hire a black person, he would be OK to host a fundraiser?

  20. I wonder what his answer would be.

    It doesn’t really matter, because the answer would be calculated, not principled.

  21. MarieLouise says:

    Barbara, I don’t understand your point. Should we refuse to vote? Should we vote for a 3rd party candidate? I’m not being sarcastic, but when I see people make the arguments you’re making, I just don’t know what they want us to do. Obama is the worst president imaginable, from a pro-life point of view, and from a Catholic point of view. Romney isn’t great, by any stretch. But it will be him or Obama, and if we stay home, we are helping Obama win (since he’s in the lead). So staying home or voting 3rd party effectively gives a vote to Obama. Obviously, that doesn’t change the motives of the person refusing to vote, but it does change the outcome. So what do you propose?

  22. Barbara and the Liberal Catholics are just looking for an iota of justification to vote for Obama. Whatever little, tiny thing they will discover will be enough to clear their conscience for voting for baby-killer O’.

  23. On reading that back, I think I was too harsh to Barbara and the Liberal Catholics. I apologize. I think I went over the line in my criticism there. We are all deeply engrained in our political positions.

  24. irishsmile says:

    I’ve already read the news article that you are referring to. I too was very unhappy about this. However, under no circumstances can I vote for Obama who has literally made abortion on demand and funded by tax dollars his number one goal. I am underwhelmed with the prospect of a Romney candidacy. In my view, strictly the lesser of two evils. Additionally, Obama has literally declared war on my Catholic faith as has the Democratic party.

  25. irishsmile says:

    Manny…. you commented on ‘deeply ingrained political positions”. I found that interesting because my husband and I were cradle Democrats. We were active in a large number of Democratic campaigns in California. A generation ago, my husband, a Hispanic, was a presidential appointee under a Democratic administration. All of our 5 children went to Catholic schools and one of our sons is a priest. My entire family over the last 15 years has switched from Democrat to Independent status because of the Democratic Party’s abandonment of Catholic voters like us. Our faith is much more deeply ingrained than our politics!

  26. I am glad to hear that irishsmile. Thanks for sharing.

  27. Thank you, Ron, for articulating something that has been both difficult for me to put into words and something troubling to me. My only addition would be that I don’t understand how, at this point, any Catholic can vote for an administration that wants to effectively shut down Catholic institutions who carry out the social justice work it claims to support.

  28. I’m in the same boat as irishsmile–though so far, I’m the only who has switched. I can imagine voting for a Democrat in the future, but I cannot fathom voting for Obama. When he was first elected, I thought the claims about him were overblown, and now I feel they were far too muted.

  29. I guess we all are in the same boat. We have trouble agreeing with each other in the church, so how are we going to have this monolithic voting block? It seems Catholics are better for life before birth and Democrats are better after birth (day care, health insurance). Catholics are better at the end of the life but Democrats are more concerned for the elderly (protection of social security and medicare). It seems on the life issue, it is a wash. When it comes to social issues, the GOP is slightly better if you hate gays. But for the middle class, there is no question the Democrats care about unions, health issues, benefits and less about how to make the rich richer. I couldn’t even pretend to guess who Jesus would vote for. I think he would shake his head and write in the sand. Both parties seem to love war so who the heck wants the Democrats who say they hate it but do nothing or the GOP that outright loves a strong national defense. On the economy and taxes, why should we be concerned about tax breaks for the wealthy? Why should they get them anyway, they don’t need them. All in all its tough when you look at the parties, but impossible when you look at the pathetic choice we have.

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