Will Healthcare Reform Hurt Obama Among Catholics?

In the wake of the news that Obamacare will mandate all employers to provide for birth control, including Catholic employers, many have wondered whether President Obama will damage his standing with the Catholic vote. In 2008, the Catholic vote split for Obama by a large margin, 54-45. Much of this was driven by Obama’s support in the Latino community; white Catholics actually voted McCain by a similarly broad margin, 52-47.

But now, even Hispanics are having second thoughts about Obama. According to a December Ipsos-Telemundo poll, Obama’s approval rating among Latinos is now down to 56%, as opposed to 86% in April 2009. Although Obama’s unfavorables have risen among Latinos, however, only 14% strongly dislike Obama’s presidential approach. That means there’s room for Obama to move the needle up once again.

He’ll have to do it soon. Obama threatens to match John Kerry’s negative Catholic electoral record – Kerry lost the Catholic vote 52-47 in 2004, and he lost white Catholics 43-56. He still won Pennsylvania, a heavily Catholic state (53%), but he lost Florida (26% Catholic) and Ohio (24% Catholic). The most heavily Catholic battleground states other than those three are New Hampshire (35%), Arizona (31%), Louisiana (30%), and Wisconsin (29%). Obama’s anti-Catholic moves may hurt him there.

We’ve actually already seen some movement in terms of the Catholic vote.

According to the National Catholic Register, in 2010, “For the first time in recent memory, the number of Catholic Republicans in the House of Representatives, 61, nearly equals the number of Democratic members at 64 or 65. That marks a dramatic shift from two years ago, when there were 98 Catholic Democrats and 38 Republicans. Catholic membership in the Senate remains relatively stable.”

But don’t get too hopeful yet, conservatives. Polls from the Public Religion Research Institute show Obama beating Mitt Romney 48-40 among Catholics, and defeating Gingrich 56-32. Will Obamacare’s anti-Catholic bent hurt him? Of course. It’s unclear whether it will hurt him enough against either a newly-converted Catholic with a checkered marital history or a Mormon candidate with problems connecting to lower-income voters.