Yesterday NPR did an excellent story on the large number of Catholic swing voters in the upcoming election. Reporter Barbara Bradley Hagerty said there are millions of swing voters wavering between Joe Biden’s old school Catholic message– vote on economic issues– and Paul Ryan’s new Catholic message– of affluence and conservatism.
John Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron, says Catholics have never been so polarized. The divisions between liberal and conservative Catholics have been growing for decades, but this election has thrown it into sharp relief.
But he says there are millions of Catholics who don’t really fit into either camp: the swing Catholics. For them, religious and social issues take a back seat.
“Those moderate Catholics tend to respond to the economic situation much more so than more conservative Catholics or liberal Catholics who tend to be strong partisans,” Green says
You’d think that with millions of Catholic voters swinging, in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, etc., the Obama campaign would be reaching out to them all the time. But if you go to the Obama site, there’s very little for Catholics. Here’s the page of Catholic leaders for Obama. From their statement, emphasizing economics.
Catholics for Obama is the home for committed Catholics across the country who are supporting President Obama. We believe this is a make-or-break moment for the middle class…
Compare that messaging to Obama’s copious Jewish messaging. Yesterday the campaign announced a new group of Rabbis for Obama. Obama’s list of achievements at the Jewish Americans page is loaded with posts about Israel (there is no “achievements” tab at the Catholics page); and here are half a dozen videos about subjects like Israel and Iran (the Catholic videos are generic, Obama on faith).
The Jewish Americans for Obama page has a blog that gets updated pretty regularly with posts like this one:
Israeli leaders on the President’s support for Israel: “More than anything I can remember”.
Then if you go to the White House website, there’s a whole “pander page,” as MJ Rosenberg put it, aimed at Jews. I can’t find any page like that for Catholics.
But if Catholic voters can swing by the millions, why all this attention to Jews, who represent only a couple hundred thousand votes of swing? Well, for one thing, Obama surely figures that his general message will be appealing to the Catholics who care about the economy– so he doesn’t have to tailor his message. That’s true of most Jewish voters too. They’ll be moved, or not, by Obama’s overall message. Most of them are liberal Dems who vote on domestic issues.
But this is not about voters. The underlying reason for all this energy is that Obama is engaged in a dogfight with Mitt Romney over fundraising, and he’s worried about losing Jewish donors because of Israel. Let me quote Jim Besser from the Jewish Week (link is to our site; can’t get the publication’s link, apologies):
So why are Jewish Republicans spending millions portraying Obama as a threat to the Jewish state?
The reason is money. While Jewish voting isn’t very Israel-focused, Jewish campaign giving is — and especially the mega-giving that is playing a bigger role than ever in Election 2012. Tarring Obama as anti-Israel, while not influencing many Jewish votes, galvanizes the growing base of wealthy pro-Israel givers and provides a platform for their generally hard-line views, one more front in the internal Jewish debate over Israel’s future.
Jewish Republicans aren’t indifferent to the possibility of picking up some extra Jewish votes, especially in critical states like Florida, but few are naive enough to believe there’s a chance of winning over enough to make a real difference in the final vote tally. Jewish votes — a drop in the huge electoral bucket — are much less important than Israel-focused campaign cash.
On a related note, I’m reading Jonathan Schneer’s The Balfour Declaration. Schneer says clearly what I’ve said often on this site: that the British rushed to compose the Balfour Declaration in 1917 because they were desperate to have world Jewry on their side in the First World War, and especially American Jewry. Schneer contends that this was an anti-Semitic misapprehension on the part of the Brits. Maybe it was a misapprehension (though certainly the Brits would have been aware of the role of American financiers in the Russo-Japanese war, a role described by Gary Dean Best in To Free a People, which describes the freeing of my own ancestors from Russia thru international leverage). But the point here is that political leaders believe that Jews have this power and act accordingly. Obama is now courting Jewish leaders out of this belief– and the voters can take care of themselves. Like it or not, this is a real aspect of American Jewish identity in 2012: we are perceived as having tremendous clout; and I think we do have it.