Obama, Romney and the Catholic vote

This commentary from CNN.com is the latest I've seen to ask whether Barack Obama is in the process of losing the Catholic vote. I think there is something to it.His administration's decision requiring Catholic institutions to pay for contraceptives through employee health insurance plans is reverberating in Catholic circles. It's disturbing to many Catholics, regardless of whether they accept or disagree with church teachings on birth control.The bishops have responded by encouraging a nationwide campaign of grassroots opposition to the health insurance mandate, framing it as a First Amendment issue. To the extent it comes from the grassroots rather than top-down, I think it's effective.From pulpits, in parish bulletins and letters to Congress, the Obama administration's decision is being assailed by Catholics, probably in your neighborhood. You don't have to be versed in the writings of Saul Alinksy to realize that this could be politically damaging to Obama, especially in the swing states that have large Catholic populations.There is a risk for the bishops: Many a Catholic has walked away from the church after being turned off by the political partisanship of not a few bishops. But as head of the U.S. bishops' conference, Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan may be seeing to it that some of the blunders of the past are avoided.One more point: Mitt Romney showed a strong ability to win over Catholics in the Florida primary. He picked up 56 percent of Catholic votes, significantly better than the 46 percent he received overall, according to exit polls analyzed by Pew Research Center. Two candidates who have made much of being Catholic - Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum - fared poorly in attracting Catholic votes.Romney still lacked strength among evangelical Christian voters. If that continues to be the case, he'll need the Catholic votes all the more.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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