Ed Kilgore has a great post today about Rick Santorum’s failure to win Catholic voters in Michigan last night. Here’s Ed:
…based on prior evidence, there’s really no particular reason to think the “Catholic vote” was ever Santorum’s to lose. His voting base has always been conservative evangelical Protestants, who also make up a high percentage of the voters fixated on making abortion illegal, a particularly strong Santorum demographic. I’m sure the JFK slur didn’t help, but this is one “surprise” in Michigan that really shouldn’t have been that surprising.
The exit polls strongly support Ed’s diagnosis. Santorum’s strongest support came from voters who think abortion is the most important issue (77%) and people who think abortion should always be illegal (60%), and he bested Romney by 16 percentage points among evangelicals and 42 percentage points among voters who said the candidates’ religious beliefs matter a great deal.
A couple of other things from the exits jumped out at me:
Santorum dominated among the hard right, winning 50% of voters who identify as “very conservative,” compared to Romney’s 36% support among this group.
Romney continued to garner support from wealthy voters and struggle among middle-class and blue-collar voters. Romney won 55% of voters with incomes of $200k or more, but Santorum beat him among all other income brackets those who make less than $100k.
On the whole, the exits suggest that the contest between Santorum and Romney looks a lot like a face-off between the GOP base and the well-heeled establishment.
Last week, Franklin Graham set off a media firestorm when, in an interview on MSNBC, he unequivocally vouched for Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich’s faith but falsely insinuated that President Obama’s Christian faith might be insincere. Graham even alleged that the president could be complicit in a secret plot by the Muslim Brotherhood to infiltrate the government.
The incident drove home to me just how surreal our public dialogue about religion and politics has become. Given his extensive history of bigoted rhetoric and baseless attacks on the President’s faith, it’s a shame that Graham was invited on air in the first place. The media seems all too willing to manufacture political controversy by inflaming religious bigotry.
In the wake of Graham’s offensive comments, I joined more than 100 faith leaders in releasing a letter standing up for the President’s faith and condemning politically motivated attacks against it. Faith leaders also held a press teleconference call to defend the President by pointing to their experiences working with the administration to strengthen their communities. Prominent evangelical pastor Joel Hunter penned an op-ed in The Hill explaining his personal, pastoral relationship with President Obama.
In addition to setting the record straight, our statements helped further the growing narrative that the faith community rejects the Religious Right’s political divisiveness. People of faith have spoken out continually on this matter. More than 20,000 members of Faithful America recently called on MSNBC to stop inviting Tony Perkins (head of Family Research Council, a Religious Right organization designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center) onto their network. Earlier this month, more than 1,000 pastors signed a pledge to hold politicians accountable for religious attacks, and a diverse coalition of prominent religious groups released a statement calling on candidates to refrain from religiously divisive campaigning.
There’s plenty of room for reasonable differences of opinion on the appropriate uses of religion in politics. What sounds like authentic witness to some might sound like religious pandering to others. But personal attacks on individuals’ religious beliefs for political gain are clearly beyond the pale, and the vast majority of people of faith reject them. Let’s make sure the media and the Religious Right get the memo.
Dr. Stephen S. Schneck, Director of the Institute for Policy Research at Catholic University, has an important piece on the “Catholic vote” this week.
Schneck breaks the Catholic population down into three distinct groups: Latino Catholics who mirror earlier Catholic immigrants in their ethnic ties to the Democratic party, “cultural Catholics” who have lower levels of mass attendance and mixed political views, and “intentional Catholics” who by virtue of not having left the Church, are “distilled” down to a more conservative group who “actively choose to embrace the church and its teachings” and “are motivated by economic issues and increasingly by opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage and illegal immigration.”
These observations seem to fit with John Sides’s analysis of presidential approval polls which tentatively suggested that Obama’s “political hit” among Catholics after the release of his administration’s contraception regulations appeared to occur largely among a limited group of Catholics who already disapprove of the President and are unlikely to vote for him anyway.
Michael Sean Winters adds:
It is true that Catholics as a whole, due to assimilation, now reflect the electorate as a whole. There are conservative Catholics on one side and liberal Catholics on the other. In between, are the Catholic swing voters. What distinguishes Catholics as a religious group in politics, then, is not that they vote as a bloc but that a significant number of them remain up for grabs, which is not necessarily true of other religious cohorts within the electorate.
The results of this week’s Florida primary raise serious questions about the political influence of Religious Right leaders. As Amy Sullivan has pointed out, conservative Christian elites – men like James Dobson, Tony Perkins, the late Jerry Falwell – have rarely seen their favorite candidate win the GOP presidential nomination. I’m sure they’re used to settling for second best by now, but this year’s contest must be particularly frustrating.
As we’ve noted before a who’s-who of the religious right had an emergency summit in Texas just two weeks ago for the expressed purpose of coalescing around a conservative candidate, and the implicit purpose of stopping Mitt Romney. Nonetheless, Romney cruised to a crushing victory in Florida. Rick Santorum, the group’s favorite, finished a distant third, and Newt Gingrich, their second choice, finished 14 points behind Romney and outperformed him among white evangelicals by a mere two percentage points.
In other words, it would be tough to argue that these religious right leaders had any effect in Florida. But before we go declaring them dead, it’s important to note that while their influence over the outcome of the primary was negligible, the fact that every candidate espouses social conservative positions indicates that they’re still agenda setters in the GOP.
As the Republican presidential candidates court Latino voters in Florida and discuss their policy proposals for handling the immigration questions facing the U.S., the stakes for families suffering under our broken system could not be higher.
During a recent event on religion’s role in the 2012 elections held at the Center for American Progress, Rev. Gabriel Salguero, President of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition and executive member of the Latino Leadership Circle, noted the consistent support for immigration reform among the faith community and the broader American electorate. Salguero also discussed the potential political consequences of the staking out hardline, anti-immigrant positions on the campaign trail.