According to a Pew poll released earlier this month, even before Barack Obama went public with his all-out war on the Catholic Church, white non-Hispanic Catholics started moving away from the Democrats and toward a Republican self-identification.
The quietly released survey, which contains lots of bad news for Democrats, was completed last December by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
What Pew found was as follows:
The Democrat identification all Catholics (practicing and non-practicing) had in 2008 is gone. Democrat identification has slipped from 53/37 to 48/43 – again this was BEFORE Obama’s declaration of war.
While this general trend should be enough to cause alarm for Democrats, digging a bit deeper brings worse news. Among white non-Hispanic Catholics – who make up a much larger portion of those who will actually vote- the numbers have reversed to a 49/42 Republican advantage. Moreover, Democrats are now even upside down among non-practicing Catholics, falling to a 47/45 GOP advantage.
It’s not just Catholics who have moved from the Democrats and toward the Republicans.
Pew tells us that Democrats have lost and Republicans have gained ground with all religious groups. Among Jewish voters, there has been a 9 point shift; among Mormons, there has been a 12 point move toward the GOP.
The significance of the Catholic vote for a Democrat presidential candidate cannot be overestimated. Republicans can lose the Catholic vote and still win, but Democrats cannot. Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan each won two elections without carrying the Catholic vote either time. Reagan had a record victory margin over Walter Mondale despite losing Catholics 47/50.
Richard Nixon crushed George McGovern in 1972 but lost Catholics 37/63. Al Gore won the Catholic vote in 2000 and still lost.
Clearly, Democrats cannot win without the Catholic vote, but Republicans win all the time without it. Right now that vote is moving away from Democrats and toward Republicans, and there is no reason to think that it will turn around before November.
The danger zone with Jewish voters is 67% or less.
Since 1920, whenever a Democrat has gotten less than 68% of the Jewish vote, he has lost. Pew’s survey shows Obama’s support among Jewish voters is at 65% – down from the 78 he got in 2008.