At a time when it seems that secularization has its strongest foothold in the national culture, American Catholics may end up having a big say in the election this fall.
Actually, with approximately 55.6 million of voting Catholics in the United States, this group has always been important, though one would be hard-pressed to draw that conclusion by observing the policies of the Obama administration. Consider that, in 2008, 54% of Catholics voted for President Obama, yet his policies, and, in particular, his HHS contraception mandate, have created a firestorm for him the likes of which the nation has not seen since its founding. The president ends this term of office with 43 lawsuits against him brought by various Catholic dioceses and organizations, and a major national campaign rally against the mandate initiated by American Catholic bishops.
It is little wonder, then, that Catholics turned out for Republicans in the 2010 “shellacking” in record numbers, and that new polling suggests they are turning out for Mitt Romney in 2012. And this was even before devout, pro-life Catholic Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) was added into the mix as the Republican vice-presidential candidate.
Politico’s latest Battleground polls demonstrate not only how the Catholic vote, in general, has moved into Romney’s camp on policy issues, but also that “active” Catholics may really make the difference for him. For example, even though 51% of Catholics, overall, still have a favorable impression of Barack Obama, only 31% of Catholics believe the country is moving in the right direction. Obama’s overall job approval is 48% among the general Catholic population sampled, yet only 43% of those polled would vote to re-elect him. 48% say they would definitely or probably vote for Romney.
Now let’s look at “active” Catholics. Only 24% of active Catholics believe the country is going in the right direction, and only 42% have a favorable impression of Obama. The president’s job approval sinks by nine points to 39% among active Catholics, and only 37% say they would vote to re-elect him. 55% would definitely or probably vote for Mitt Romney. These results suggest that “active” Catholics could have a profound effect on the upcoming election.
Now, if we add the effects of “active Catholic” Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) into the mix, what can we expect?
First, let’s observe that, even in 2008, when President Obama received 54% of the national Catholic vote, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) still received 55% of the Catholic vote in liberal New Jersey, and 50% of the Catholic vote in liberal Connecticut.
Second, let’s consider how Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), in his role as Chairman of the House Budget Committee, has actively reached out to fellow Catholics by identifying himself as a “Catholic in public office.” In April of this year, Ryan was invited to address faculty and students at Georgetown University, after receiving a letter of protest from some faculty members that questioned the morality of his House budget, which called for cuts to “social justice” programs. Undaunted, Ryan responded to the challenge from the Catholic left by asserting, “What I have to say about the social doctrine of the Church is from the viewpoint of a Catholic in politics applying my understanding to the problems of the day.”
Ryan went on to say, “Simply put, I don’t believe that the ‘preferential option for the poor’ means a ‘preferential option’ for big government.” From there, he discussed that, often, social justice programs continue to have taxpayer money thrown at them when there is no proof that the programs even meet their desired goals.
Ryan’s knowledge of the facts about the nation’s finances, and his extraordinary ability to clearly articulate his faith principles and how they inform his policy decisions, will likely lead to a win among Catholics for the Romney/Ryan ticket. This outcome is even more likely when we consider that President Obama has acted as if Catholics do not exist.