Does Obama have a white Catholic problem?

obama 02 It's time for me to jump on and ride my favorite intellectual hobbyhorse again. For months, I have criticized MSM reporters for failing to write about trends among Catholic voters. My argument was that a) the white Catholic vote seemed to favor Hillary Clinton and b) the white Catholic vote is acknowledged as a key bloc (read a summary of a 2005 Democratic memo).

So imagine my surprise that The Washington Post wrote about Catholic voters, sort of. It made me think that the Post is starting to get it; by contrast, neither The New York Times nor The Boston Globe wrote about Catholic voters. It also made me think that reporters should examine whether Barack Obama has a Catholic problem.

Post reporter Alec MacGillis quoted political scientists who explained Obama's problems in Ohio this way:

Experts point to ethnic makeup and decades of political tradition to help explain why Obama was not able to match his performance in Wisconsin, another Midwestern state with a soft economy. While Wisconsin has a strong reform ethos dating to the Lutheran Germans and Scandinavians who once dominated it, Ohio's ethnic mix leans to Roman Catholics -- largely Eastern European and Italian -- and Scotch-Irish, while its politics are more top-down and party- and union-oriented.

In other words, these political scientists believe that white Protestants like Obama, while white Catholics don't. That's interesting. But does the data back up the assertion? On this question, MacGillis failed to give his readers any statistics.

In fairness to MacGillis, it's difficult to tell. Over at Spiritual Politics, Mark Silk asserts that white Catholics voted for Clinton and Obama at similar rates. His argument is that if you factor out black voters, the percentage of white Catholics and Protestants who voted for the two Democratic candidates is roughly equal.

Yet Jay Cost at Real Clear Politics found the opposite to be true. Except for the vote in Wisconsin, Northern white Catholics favored Clinton by more than 25 percentage points. So maybe, as Tmatt suggested, there are Catholic blocs, rather than a Catholic bloc?

Reporters should start answering that question more seriously. The next big Democratic primary will be held, on April 22, in Pennsylvania. And as The Post showed in a graph accompanying MacGillis' story, the Keystone State has lots of white Catholic voters.

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