Nineteen Sixty-four is a research blog for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University edited by Mark M. Gray. CARA is a non-profit research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church. Founded in 1964, CARA has three major dimensions to its mission: to increase the Catholic Church's self understanding; to serve the applied research needs of Church decision-makers; and to advance scholarly research on religion, particularly Catholicism. Follow CARA on Twitter at: caracatholic.
Catholic Vote Before 2nd Debate: Obama on the 16th Hole, 2 Stokes Off the Lead
From academics to popular culture there is certainly no shortage of election prediction models to choose from. This year Nate Silver's daily calculations, the "wisdom of crowds" at Intrade, and the predictions of University of Colorado at Boulder political scientists have received a lot of attention (...you might also want to pay attention to the Washington Redskins game against the Carolina Panthers on Nov. 4). My favorite model is simply the Catholic vote. A classic bellwether, as this bloc goes so too does the electorate (...I'm not arguing this is determinative—just highly likely).
We've been tracking the preferences of Catholic registered voters for weeks now. President Obama has maintained an edge here and currently leads 49% to Gov. Romney's 45%. But voter registration deadlines have now passed in many states and polling has now shifted to likely voters. This puts a new frame on the race for the Catholic vote. Using this as a prediction model and borrowing a golf metaphor, the president enters tonight's debate on the 16th hole, two strokes off the lead. Mitt Romney has a slim edge among Catholic likely voters and he's actually had this edge for quite some time. The figure below aggregates eight different polls, from three different pollsters, over the last three months. Gov. Romney has led in seven and tied in one. He has never trailed during this period. Now technically these "leads" are well within margin of error but the consistency across time and pollsters leads one to believe there is likely a real lead here.
How can a lead flip moving from registered voters to likely voters? Currently, Catholics favoring President Obama are indicating lower likelihoods of voting than those favoring Gov. Romney. As we've shown previously, Hispanic registered voters and those ages 18 to 29 are among the least likely to indicate they will definitely vote in November. As early voting began a few weeks ago this election became all about turnout and mobilization. Polls are indicating the Romney campaign is doing a better job at mobilizing Catholic voters.
What will bring people to the polls? Catholic likely voters have similar concerns as those of the overall electorate citing the economy as their most important issue followed by government spending and the budget deficit, health care costs, and jobs. The president will certainly try to make up ground in tonight's debate on these issues. The debate is in the town hall format and both candidates will be asked questions from an audience of undecided voters selected by Gallup.
In my opinion (disclaimer: I am not registered to vote and do not support either candidate), one of the Obama campaign's biggest successes is also turning out to be a challenging issue in the debates. The campaign spent so much time effectively attacking the governor on everything from his treatment of a family pet to Bain Capital to his misbehavior as a school boy that they ended up creating a one-dimensional character that does not reflect reality well. Just taking the stage and not appearing as an "evil" Thurston Howell is a win for Gov. Romney in each debate. The debates also tend to be about issues, policies, and records instead of the personality-based content the Obama campaign has so heavily focused on. I also think the president's dearth of press conferences or interviews with journalists who might sufficiently challenge him (with a few exceptions) provided little practice for the tough questions and sparring in these debates. Although going on The View and The Late Show with David Letterman is great use of free and popular media it is also a bit like preparing for the national championship by playing a few Division III schools (...sorry more sports metaphors).
Photo above courtesy of Out of Chicago from Flickr Commons.
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