Palin Boosts McCain With Devout Catholic Voters
The McCain-Palin ticket may be locking its huge lead on a crucial voting bloc: church-going Catholics.
The development — contained Thursday in a poll by the Pew Research Center and backed by other polls — could be crucial to victory in November.
Why? Catholics are the ultimate swing voters and make up as much as one-third the population of battleground states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Moreover, some 40 percent of U.S. Catholics have no affiliation with either party.
Republican presidential candidate John McCain now has opened a 16-percentage-point lead over Democratic rival Barack Obama among observant Catholics, according to the Pew poll. The lead began to widen with the selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as McCain's running mate, who, unknown to most voters, was baptized in the Catholic Church but raised in primarily Protestant evangelical churches.
The gain was noted earlier this month in a Zogby Online Interactive poll that showed 54 percent of Catholic respondents endorsing McCain’s choice of Palin for his running mate. Thirty-one percent believed it would hurt the campaign. Seven percent believed it would not make a difference.
But there also was good news in the Pew poll for Obama: his is gaining among Hispanics, two-thirds of whom are Catholic.
He’s also even with McCain among so-called “lapsed Catholics” who attend mass occasionally or never. Because of their dramatic growth in the electorate in the West over the last decade, a large Hispanic turnout could tip the election for Obama if he wins at least 40 percent of that bloc, according to experts.
For decades, Catholics have been leaving their traditional home in the Democratic Party, with more-observant Catholics in the vanguard. Northeastern Catholics were a huge factor in the victories of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. But over the last four years, pollsters and religious experts have detected a reconsideration of Democrats.
McCain may be winning them back.
“We have strong evidence that the Palin pick was the big part of it,” Scott Keeter, director of survey research at Pew, told The Christian Science Monitor. Palin’s large family and her decision to bear her fifth child despite a diagnosis of Down syndrome lit a spark with observant Catholics who are staunchly against abortion. Palin also reassured these voters on “a whole constellation of values issues that are important to conservative Christians,” Keeler said.
What’s now up for grabs is the vote of white, less-observant Catholics.