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Polls: Mitt Romney slipping among Catholic voters

Published: Thursday, Sept. 27 2012 4:29 p.m. MDT

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney campaigns at American Legion Post 176 in Springfield, Va., Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012.  (Charles Dharapak, Associated Press) Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney campaigns at American Legion Post 176 in Springfield, Va., Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012. (Charles Dharapak, Associated Press)

Three out of four recent polls show GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney is losing support among Catholics despite his selection of a Catholic running mate and support from the church's U.S. hierarchy.

The survey that has received the most attention to the trend is by the Pew Research Center, which has Romney trailing President Barack Obama among Catholic voters, 51-42 percent, as of Sept. 16. In June, a Pew poll gave Obama a 47-45 percent edge among Catholics.

Romney has never had significant support among Catholic voters, according to the Pew surveys, having the advantage over Obama just twice since late last year: 50-47 percent in October 2011 and 50-45 percent in May of last year.

Why is the Catholic vote critical for Romney?

"Catholic voters, who accounted for more than a quarter of the electorate in the 2008 election, have voted with the winning presidential candidate in every election going back to the early 1990s," CNN reported.

Democratic activist Sabrina DeVault greets the motorcade of Republican vice presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as he arrives for a fundraiser Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012, in Knoxville, Tenn. Ryan is headlining a $1,000-a-plate luncheon organized by in part by Jim Haslam II, father of Gov. Bill Haslam and a major fundraiser and contributor to the Republican Party.   (Knoxville News Sentinel, Amy Smotherman Burgess, Associated Press) Democratic activist Sabrina DeVault greets the motorcade of Republican vice presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as he arrives for a fundraiser Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012, in Knoxville, Tenn. Ryan is headlining a $1,000-a-plate luncheon organized by in part by Jim Haslam II, father of Gov. Bill Haslam and a major fundraiser and contributor to the Republican Party. (Knoxville News Sentinel, Amy Smotherman Burgess, Associated Press)

"In 2008, Obama beat John McCain among Catholics by 54 percent to 45 percent. In 2004, John Kerry the first Catholic nominee for president since John F. Kennedy lost the Catholic vote to George W. Bush, provoking Democrats to take Catholic outreach more seriously.

"Both major parties had America’s highest-profile Catholic cleric, New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, give the closing prayer at their recent political conventions."

Before the conventions, Romney tapped conservative Catholic congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate and since last Spring, U.S. Catholic bishops have campaigned against the Obama administration's mandate that requires some religious institutions, such as colleges and hospitals, to provide cost-free contraception coverage to employees. Both developments were expected to shore up support among Catholics.

But apparently several polls show that hasn't happened. Obama lost among white Catholics in 2008, according to Pew, but now he and Romney are tied in that demographic.

“That’s the part of the poll that I think is kind of surprising,” John Green, a political science professor at the University of Akron with an expertise in politics and religion, told CNN.

"Green said that it is white Catholics who were most likely to be receptive to the bishops’ recent attacks against the Obama administration over what the church says is the White House’s curtailment of religious freedom."

Two other polls also indicate the message didn't resonate. The latest Gallup tracking poll has Obama up among Catholics, 50-44 percent, when the two candidates were just two percentage points apart in August. Another survey in August of more than 2,600 Catholic voters by the Catholic Association had Obama leading Romney 49-41 percent, with 10 percent undecided.

Meanwhile, the latest Politico/George Washington University Battleground Poll has Romney beating Obama among Catholics, 50-43 percent, a factor that is mentioned in the GOP analysis of the poll.

"Digging a little deeper on the presidential ballot, Romney has majority support (51 percent) among Catholics, which in past presidential elections has been one of the most predictive demographic groups of the eventual outcome," wrote pollsters Ed Goeas and Brian Nienaber. "Even further, Romney is a winning majority across all religions amongst those who attend services at least weekly (59 percent) or monthly (52 percent), while Obama is winning among those who attend less frequently, never or are nonbelievers."

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