Roman Catholic bishops are peeved with President Obama. Will it matter in 2012?
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is launching a “Fortnight For Freedom” campaign Thursday to protest the Obama administration’s requirement that all employee health plans – including those of religiously affiliated universities and hospitals – provide birth control to their employees.
Roman Catholic Church leaders believe the mandate is an assault religious liberty, and have brought their case to the pews with the hope of mobilizing parishioners to lobby Congress to overturn the rule. Polls show their efforts are resonating among some Catholics, but may be turning away just as many, muddling the movement’s impact on the 2012 election.
Catholics are generally thought of as a swing voting group, veering by no more than 4 percentage points in support for Democratic presidential candidates in elections since 1976. But their swings closely resemble those of the public overall, bringing into question any religiously-related voting by the group – they could simply be moving with national tides.
The concerted effort by national leaders to challenge Obama could give Catholics a religious reason to vote against him — if they agree with said leaders. Polls this year show this is far from a given.
Fewer than four in 10 Catholics (38 percent) said the right of religious liberty is being threatened in America today, while 57 percent said it was not, according to a March Public Religion Research Institute poll.
Catholics overwhelmingly supported a broad birth control requirement in a March Washington Post-ABC News poll, 62 to 37 percent. When asked specifically about religiously-affiliated institutions that oppose birth control, Catholics split 48 percent in favor of a requirement, 51 percent against.
The poll found a chasm between Catholics who attend Mass each week and those who don’t . Fully 68 percent of weekly attending Catholics opposed the birth control requirement for religiously affiliated institutions, while 62 percent of those who attend less often supported the mandate. The divide is far from new: Obama narrowly lost weekly-attending Catholics in 2008, but beat McCain by 58 to 40 percent among those who attended less often, according to exit polls. Reactions to the mandate may simply reinforce this trend.
To be sure, there’s little good news for Obama in a public challenge to part of his signature health-care overhaul legislation, especially from spiritual leaders of such a large voting group. Nevertheless, the lack of unity among Catholics on an issue their national leaders are pushing strongly hints that it will have little impact on the 2012 election.