The Chicago Tribune's version of the pew gap story that permeated news outlets last week focuses heavily on the slight percentage shifts in party preference among Catholics, white evangelicals, and "worshipers who attend church frequently." The article's focus on these three statistical categories emphasizes that a factor in President-elect Barack Obama's victory was his slight improvement in the pews over the failed 2004 Democratic Nominee John Kerry. This runs contrary to the notion that Obama failed to close the pew gap. Unfortunately, the article only takes a surface-level approach to the data. A short survey of the data amassed at Steve Waldman's blog shows that support for Obama actually declined among evangelicals older than 65. Waldman also points out that evangelical voters made up a bigger percentage of McCain's voters than they did Bush's voters. So much for writing cover stories about the declining influence of evangelicals in the GOP.
The only portion of the article not focused exclusively on the numbers dealt with Obama's support among Catholic voters and the issue of abortion:
Obama's win among Catholics came despite an aggressive push by some of the nation's bishops to encourage the faithful to make abortion their main issue. The abortion debate intensified when Catholic legal scholars Douglas Kmiec and Nicholas Cafardi announced their support of Obama, who supports keeping abortion legal, and urged Catholics to consider the full agenda of Catholic social teaching.
Chicago's Cardinal Francis George, who is also president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote a letter of congratulations to Obama and offered prayers for strength and wisdom to meet the nation's challenges.
"Our country is confronting many uncertainties," George wrote. "We pray that you will use the powers of your office to meet them with a special concern to defend the most vulnerable among us and heal the divisions in our country and our world. We stand ready to work with you in defense and support of the life and dignity of every human person."
The article's quotation of George's letter is cryptically interesting since it follows a paragraph-long description of the abortion debate with the Catholic community. While the article notes that a couple of legal scholars endorsed Obama, the article fails to note that abortion remains a rather important and controversial issue for Catholics. See here a recent account by the Associated Press's Rachel Zoll on George's statement regarding abortion:
BALTIMORE (AP) -- The head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, opening a national church meeting Monday, said that continued support for abortion rights will undermine any advances in social justice that come from a new president and Congress.
Chicago Cardinal Francis George said "we must all rejoice" that an African-American will be in the White House for the first time in a country that "once enshrined slavery" in law.
But he said the nation still violates what he called universal human rights by keeping abortion legal. "The common good can never be adequately incarnated in any society when those waiting to be born can be legally killed at choice," George said.
Here is an idea for a follow-up story: What happens to the Catholic vote if some of Obama's first actions as president are to widen the availability of abortions through executive order as appears to be the case?
Overall, the Tribune article strikes a reasonable tone that shows that Obama's gains amongst religious communities contributed to putting him over the top last week.