May 23, 2015
Is Pope Francis Good for the Democrats? Obama in the Vatican
Posted on Mar 29, 2014
By Juan Cole
This post originally ran on Juan Cole’s Web page.
Could the enormous popularity of Pope Francis spill over into American politics? Pope Francis is worried about inequality, a Democratic Party issue, and his statements and actions on the subject are a stunning rebuke to “evangelical Catholics” such as Paul Ryan, who tend rather to celebrate economic inequality or to deny it or to blame the victims. On the other hand, Francis is worried about Obamacare forcing Catholic institutions to pay for birth control for their employees, against their will.
The real reason Joe Biden is vice president is that the Democratic Party has a White Catholic problem. Irish-Americans, Polish-Americans and Italian-Americans give the edge to Republican presidential candidates over Democratic ones by anywhere from 5 to 19 points. The two extremes both occurred in the case of Obama, who received 47% of the White Catholic vote versus John McCain’s 52 percent in 2008, and who received only 40% of their vote in 2012 versus 59% for Mitt Romney. Biden was able to turn things around in that constituency in 2008, but not so much in 2012.
(h/t Pew Forum)
Square, Site wide
The White Catholic problem is not a Catholic problem in general. A majority of American Catholics reliably votes for the Democratic presidential candidate, though it can be a bare majority. Latino Catholics have been strongly trending Democrat and a stunning three-fourths of them now vote for the Democrat in presidential races (it was more like 65% a decade ago).
President Obama had attempted to position his meeting at the Vatican as an “inquality” summit. Pope Francis, in contrast, structured the publicity around President Obama’s meeting with him so as to concentrate on abortion and birth control. Obamacare mandates that employers pay for insurance that includes giving birth control to employees. Pope Francis opposes this affront to Catholic conscience. He appears to be attempting to make a trade– his support on inequality issues in return for Obama backing off pressure on Catholic hospitals (e.g.) to pay for coverage of contraceptives for employees.
The thing is, however, American Catholics have largely rejected the Vatican’s stance on birth control. Nearly 80% of US Catholics support the use of contraceptives and so have no problem with Obamacare mandating the employer-paid insurance provide it. Indeed, the worldwide Catholic lay community rejects the ban on contraceptives and supports abortion rights by a fair margin.
So actually Pope Francis is in a weak position to pressure Obama on this issue. Since it is a matter of some concern to women, and since Democrats in presidential elections have a 10-point advantage among women voters, it would be foolish for Obama to alienate the latter in a bid to make the Catholic hierarchy happy when the Catholic faithful doesn’t care.
But the more significant issue is the one on which Obama and the pope agree, that is, the undesirability of extreme wealth inequality. Late last fall Pope Francis wrote in an apostolic exhortation entitled “The Joy of the Gospel” (Evangelii Gaudium):
Ouch! That is just about the most thorough debunking of the Republican Party platform you could imagine.
And, it is a message popular with Roman Catholics. Some 78% of American Catholics believe that the US government should do “a lot” (almost half say that) or at least “something” to reduce poverty and inequality.
The statement started some rabbits in the cafeteria Catholic brush, so that Paul Ryan felt constrained to bash the Pope for allegedly not understanding capitalism. Does Ryan really think he can run on that position in Boston?
So the likelihood is that Obama and the Democrats in general can benefit from the Pope’s forthright stance on these issues, which makes Paul Ryan and other GOP Catholic Scrooges look like cafeteria Catholics. Obama and Francis are on the same page as the US Catholic faithful on this issue, which gives it political salience.
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