Does Obama have a white Catholic problem?

obama 02 It’s time for me to jump on and ride my favorite intellectual hobbyhorse again.

For months, I have criticized MSM reporters for failing to write about trends among Catholic voters. My argument was that a) the white Catholic vote seemed to favor Hillary Clinton and b) the white Catholic vote is acknowledged as a key bloc (read a summary of a 2005 Democratic memo).

So imagine my surprise that The Washington Post wrote about Catholic voters, sort of. It made me think that the Post is starting to get it; by contrast, neither The New York Times nor The Boston Globe wrote about Catholic voters. It also made me think that reporters should examine whether Barack Obama has a Catholic problem.

Post reporter Alec MacGillis quoted political scientists who explained Obama’s problems in Ohio this way:

Experts point to ethnic makeup and decades of political tradition to help explain why Obama was not able to match his performance in Wisconsin, another Midwestern state with a soft economy. While Wisconsin has a strong reform ethos dating to the Lutheran Germans and Scandinavians who once dominated it, Ohio’s ethnic mix leans to Roman Catholics — largely Eastern European and Italian — and Scotch-Irish, while its politics are more top-down and party- and union-oriented.

In other words, these political scientists believe that white Protestants like Obama, while white Catholics don’t. That’s interesting. But does the data back up the assertion? On this question, MacGillis failed to give his readers any statistics.

In fairness to MacGillis, it’s difficult to tell. Over at Spiritual Politics, Mark Silk asserts that white Catholics voted for Clinton and Obama at similar rates. His argument is that if you factor out black voters, the percentage of white Catholics and Protestants who voted for the two Democratic candidates is roughly equal.

Yet Jay Cost at Real Clear Politics found the opposite to be true. Except for the vote in Wisconsin, Northern white Catholics favored Clinton by more than 25 percentage points. So maybe, as Tmatt suggested, there are Catholic blocs, rather than a Catholic bloc?

Reporters should start answering that question more seriously. The next big Democratic primary will be held, on April 22, in Pennsylvania. And as The Post showed in a graph accompanying MacGillis’ story, the Keystone State has lots of white Catholic voters.

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  • Mark Byron

    If I recall correctly, Harold Washington had trouble winning over white “ethnic” voters when he ran for Chicago mayor in the 80s. Many voters with Irish and Eastern European roots who were normally yellow-dog Democrats wound up voting Republican rather than voting for a black guy; there was more than a bit of a redneck streak in some of those ethnic neighborhoods, most of which were at least nominally Catholic.

    We’re a good two decades ahead of that Washington episode, but that clannish dynamic might still be in play.

  • Mark Stricherz

    Were cultural issues in dispute in that election?

    I think that the Catholics-are-racist-voters thesis is overstated. Take the 1968 election. Race relations was the number one voting issue that year, not Vietnam. Humphrey was identified strongly with civil rights, while Nixon played a Southern strategy during the primaries. Catholics ended up giving almost three-fifths of their votes to Humphrey. By contrast, Adlai Stevenson never got more than 56 percent of the Catholic vote.

    I have another example in my book: Westmoreland County in western Pennsylvania. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans there two to one. It’s heavily Catholic and working class. The county had voted Democratic at the presidential election in almost every race between 1928 and 1996. But now it votes on cultural issues. In 2006, it favored Lynn Swann, a black pro-lifer, over incument Ed Rendell, a white pro-choicer.

  • Chuck

    Another, smaller, error:

    It’s “Scots-Irish“. Scotch is a drink or a brand of tape.

    That is all…

  • Katherine

    When the press does address this issue, they tend to go overboard. Senator Clinton may be winning the larger share of the white Catholic vote and that certainly is an issue or a consideration for the Obama campaign. However, her success (if it is true) does not provide any proof that white Catholics have a hostility towards Senator Obama or that they are not prepared to vote for him in November.

    Certainly come November, Senator Obama will have the support of the Catholics who supported him in the primary and a better shot at winning over the Catholics who supported Senator Clinton, given the two of them are much closer on the issues than McCain. The Hagee matter, his position on the war in Iraq and his hostility towards labor unions will not help McCain with Catholic voters. McCain will get some Catholic votes based on his support for letting each of the states decide abortion policy, but his support for Embroynic stem cell research has cooled many pro-lifer to his camapign and his opposition to social assistance programs to help women in crisis pregnancies choose life has led many progressive pro-life Catholics to see more value working with Democrats to protect life by helping women in need.

  • Jimmy Mac

    Not with this white Catholic male, he doesn’t!