Why Barack Obama Will Not Win the Catholic Vote

Deal W. Hudson
January 7, 2008

To win the White House in 2008, the Democrats have to win back the Catholic voters they lost to the GOP in 2000 and 2004. A previous Window forecast that if the Democrats nominated Hillary Clinton, she would win the Catholic vote. However, with his commanding victory in the Iowa caucus, Barack Obama may be well on his way to upsetting the presumptive nominee.

But what will his prospects be for winning the necessary Catholic vote? Recent polling and expert analyses suggest that Obama will actually have a difficult time connecting with Catholic voters.

Pew Research Center poll released last November showed Obama trailing Clinton 17 percent to 45 percent among white Catholics. Among mainline Protestants, Obama was preferred by 25 percent; black Protestants, 36 percent; and religious but unaffiliated voters, 27 percent.

It must be troubling to the Obama campaign that his level of support among white Catholics is significantly lower than among other religious voters. In fact, this was the greatest drop for any presidential candidate between his or her overall percentage and the percentage among a specific group.

These numbers did not surprise Steve Wagner, president of QEV Analytics and an expert in political polling of Catholic voters. Wagner thinks Clinton is a bigger threat to take the Catholic vote back from the GOP.

According to Wagner, Clinton’s advantage is her ability to put forth “persuasive arguments on key social issues.” Obama has yet to make these kinds of arguments. Rather, he attracts a “substantially frustrated constituency of people far to the left who don’t feel they have representation. Catholics aren’t feeling deprived.”

Wagner’s description of Obama’s following sounds much like what I have heard from politically active Catholic liberals over the years. I asked Wagner if the Catholic left would be able to help Obama: “There just aren’t many people fitting that description. Liberal Catholics are trivial as a constituency because they are so small in number.”

Wagner predicts that the only religious voting group who will strongly support Obama is religiously active African-American voters. (There was concern recently that Obama was not connecting with African-American ministers, but he seems to have picked up some important support lately.)

The underlying danger of Obama for Democrats, according to Wagner, is that he is returning to the “interest-group politics” that started in the 1970s with the McGovern campaign.

A recent book by pro-life Democrat Mark StricherzWhy the Democrats Are Blue: How Secular Liberals Hijacked the People’s Party, describes the revolution in the Democratic Party brought about by the 1972 McGovern Commission, mandating that convention delegates be selected by a quota system of race and gender.

According to Stricherz, it was the white, largely ethnic Catholic who got pushed aside in the Democratic Party when the quota system was enforced. Most of these Democrats were Catholic and pro-life; they were replaced by pro-abortion feminists.

The Democratic Party, it is widely recognized, is still trying to recover from the McGovern revolution, which triggered the steady migration of Catholics into the GOP. If Wagner is right, Obama’s politics will remind Catholic voters why they left the Democratic Party in the first place.

Another big problem Obama will have with Catholics, Wagner says, will be his brand of patriotism. Last October, Obama suddenly removed the America flag pin he has been wearing since the start of the campaign. He said it has become a substitute for “true patriotism” since the attacks of 9/11.

Catholics will bristle at the reminder of that incident, which will inevitably come up in a presidential campaign. As Wagner put it, “Catholics are patriotic, and the Obama campaign will contain implicit criticism of America throughout its message.”

I asked Wagner whether Obama, if nominated, would be able to move toward the middle, like Senator Clinton and Governor Romney have tried to do.

“Romney had four years to remake himself, but Obama will have only four months to reinvent himself,” Wagner said. “His leftish populism is not going to play in a general election.”

Wagner’s view of Obama stands in stark contrast to the opinion of many Democrats. No less than Ted Sorensen, a former speechwriter for John F. Kennedy, has heralded the junior senator from Illinois as JFK’s heir.

Kennedy won 83% of the Catholic vote in 1960. In this respect, at least, Barack Obama will be no JFK.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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