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Obama Couldn’t Get the Catholic Vote in Pennsylvania

In Barack Obama, Democracy, Democrats, Election 2008, Hillary Clinton, Politics, Polling and Surveys, Religion on April 28, 2008 at 11:27 pm

The Pew Research released their findings of Catholic voters and candidate choice during the Pennsylvania Presidential Primary.

It shouldn’t be by anyone’s surprise that the exit polls showed Clinton winning the Catholic vote while Obama did well with the African American vote.

According to the Pew Research:

( in the exit polls), Clinton did very well with white Catholics, winning 72% of their vote. She also did well with white Protestants and Jews, winning 59% and 61% of their votes, respectively.

As in the past, Obama did very well with African Americans, most of whom are Protestants, winning 90% of their vote. He also won 62% of the religiously unaffiliated vote. Obama generally did well with non-whites and with religious minorities as well.

Were there any big surprises in the results?

The big surprise was how little change there was in the support for the candidates among religious groups despite the fierce campaigning in the state, which included extensive outreach to the Catholic community. Obama, for example, received strong support from Sen. Bob Casey, a popular Catholic politician. Some analysts expected the “Casey Democrats” to shift toward Obama and help him break into the white Catholic vote, but this didn’t really happen.

This result is reminiscent of the inability of Ted Kennedy to deliver white Catholics to Obama in the Massachusetts primary. All told, Clinton’s outreach to Catholics appears to have been more effective than Obama’s — but the same could also be said about her outreach to other faith groups.

Do we know why white Catholic voters have been choosing Clinton over Obama?

Not exactly. But the exit polls and other data reveal that the economy was the most important issue to Pennsylvania Democrats. We know that Catholic organizations, such as Catholics United, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Catholics for the Common Good, have been emphasizing the theme of “the common good” in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. Clinton’s speeches on the economy, which include long lists of specific policy proposals, may well have boosted her standing among the state’s Catholics who share these concerns. She also likely benefited from memories of the more prosperous economy during her husband’s administration.

So does Obama have a serious problem attracting Catholic voters nationally?

From the point of view of the primaries, it appears that he does. The Obama campaign has made a strong effort to deal with this problem but has had only limited success so far.

Could this problem persist in the general election if Obama is the Democratic nominee? It might, and, if so, it would pose a challenge for Obama in battleground states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. We should keep in mind, however, that many of the Democratic Catholics who did not vote for Obama in the primaries might well support him in the fall against John McCain. But on the other hand, not all white Catholics are Democrats — many are independents or Republicans. If nothing else, this means that white Catholics are a key group to watch.

To be fair, one might also ask if Clinton has an “African American problem” or an “unaffiliated problem.” After all, she has not done well with these groups in the primaries, and she will need strong support from these voters in the fall if she is her party’s nominee. One substantial difference, however, is that black Protestants and unaffiliated voters tend to be more strongly Democratic in their partisanship than white Catholics, so it might be easier for Clinton to rally them.

Read the full report about Obama’s Catholic Vote Problem here.

  1. No real surprises in those findings.

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