Misreading the Catholic Vote

It's always fun to feign perplexity over polling. Basically, it works this way; a bunch of pundits agree on a narrative -- often based on stereotypes. They take their assumptions and run with them, until everyone starts thinking that they have some sort of basis in fact, rather than speculation. Then, when polling comes out showing the speculation to be exactly wrong, the head-scratching ensues.

So it is with a new Gallup poll. In that poll, Romney leads among the "very religious," while Obama leads among everyone else (the "very religious" are a minority, by the way). None of this is very surprising -- the religious nuts always go for the Republican. But what has the pundits all confused is that President Obama leads among Catholic voters.

This is a serious variation from the accepted pundit groupthink. That whole contraception coverage thing was supposed to be a big problem for Obama. Yet here they are backing him anyway. The word "despite" is used in just about every story and post dealing with this I've seen so far; Catholics back Obama "despite" the whole BC thing.

But the thing is that Catholic voter is not the Catholic Church. The church hierarchy is largely controlled by throwbacks to the 14th century who make Rick Santorum look like a figure from the Enlightenment. On many issues, the churchgoers and the church aren't on the same page. So if Catholics back Obama "despite" the church's stand on contraception coverage, it should surprise no one. If the punditry had bothered to check, they'd have found out that most Catholics disagree with the church on this one.

And completely overlooked in all this is the role of Mitt Romney's embrace of Paul Ryan's budgetary nutjobbery. Turns out that this is something Catholics aren't big fans of.


House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) today faced further backlash from religious groups after attempting to use Catholic social teaching to justify the House Republican budget. Ryan spoke this morning at Georgetown University in Washington, where he was met by faculty members and religious groups who protested his budget’s drastic cuts to programs that help the poor.

About 90 members of Georgetown’s faculty, including two dozen Jesuit priests, signed a letter telling Ryan that he is “profoundly misreading Church teaching” and that his budget would have “devastating consequences” for poor Americans...

You can find that letter here.

Contrary to what the religious right and the Republican Party like to pretend, Jesus wasn't all about hating gays and birth control and abortion. If he was, you'd think he would've actually mentioned it. What he did mention was caring for the poor and the sick, as well as the promotion of peace. So it's no surprise that churchgoers who actually pay attention to the message wouldn't be big fans of Paul Ryan's budget.

It got so bad for Ryan, that he (in an ironically Peter-like move) denied Ayn Rand was a personal influence. "It’s an atheist philosophy," Ryan told the National Review. "It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview."

Back in 2005, Paul Ryan was telling a different story. "But the reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand. And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism," he told the Atlas Society -- an Ayn Rand fan club/cult. "It’s so important that we go back to our roots to look at Ayn Rand’s vision, her writings, to see what our girding, under-grounding [sic] principles are... And then I go to the 64-page John Galt speech, you know, on the radio at the end, and go back to a lot of other things that she did, to try and make sure that I can check my premises so that I know that what I’m believing and doing and advancing are square with the key principles of individualism."

So not only is Ryan pushing a budget that Catholics really don't like, but he's lying to them about it in the process. Frankly, this is not a good way to make friends.

And this is a Romney surrogate. Catholics for Obama isn't something that's happening despite Obama's policies, it's something that's happening because of Romney's. I guess my advice to the punditry is that the next time you're tempted to go with an easy stereotype, don't. You're going to be wrong.


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