Obama Taps Pro-Choice Catholic Sen. Joe Biden as Veep: Poll of Catholic Voters

Sen. Barack Obama selected Senator Joe Biden to be his running mate today, in part as an effort to shore up Obama’s support among Catholic voters who make up 25 percent of the electorate. While the selection is already being assailed by extremist social conservative Catholic organizations, Biden will have strong appeal to the vast majority of Catholics according to a major new poll released Thursday about Catholic voters.

Steve Waldman, Editor of Beliefnet.com wrote, "he’s Catholic enough to appeal to Catholics, pro-life enough to avoid
some Church attacks, and pro-choice enough to satisfy Hillary voters."

Biden understands the American value of separating personal faith from public duty in our democracy, and his positions on sexual and reproductive health issues demonstrate that clearly.

Biden is a strong supporter of efforts to increase education and prevention services, including contraception, to prevent unintended pregnancies. While he supports Roe v. Wade, he has taken some heat from pro-choice advocates for his support of a federal ban on late-term abortions, but in doing so, also recognized the judicial activism of the conservatives on the Supreme Court in their decisions in the Gonzales v. Carhart and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood cases. Biden said on Meet the Press;

They upheld the ban, and then they engaged in what we
lawyers call dicta that is frightening. You had an intellectually
dishonest rationale for an honest justification for upholding the ban.
I know this is going to sound arcane–they blurred the distinction
between the government’s role in being involved
in the first day and the ninth month. They became paternalistic,
talking about the court could consider the impact on the mother and
keeping her from making a mistake. This is all code for saying, "Here
we come to undo Roe v. Wade." What they did is not
so much the decision, the actual outcome of the decision, it’s what
attended the decision that portends for a real hard move on the court
to undo the right of privacy. That’s what I’m criticizing about the
court’s decision.


Nancy Keenan, President of NARAL Pro-Choice America said, "Sen. Biden has consistently expressed support for a
woman’s right to choose. While we have not agreed with him on every vote, we
have a longstanding relationship with Sen. Biden that is
open, positive, and constructive, and we are
confident this will continue in a new administration under Sen.
Obama’s pro-choice leadership.
Sen. Biden, who is a cosponsor of the landmark
Prevention First Act, also has joined us in supporting common sense
efforts to prevent unintended pregnancy by improving women’s access to birth
control, ensuring teens receive accurate sex education, and supporting
family-planning programs.”

RH Reality Check’s Election 2008 page has a detailed primer on Biden’s Reproductive Health views, as well as information on the other candidates, including top Senate and House races and Ballot Initiatives.

New Poll on Catholic Voters

Biden’s moderate views on reproductive health and his Catholic faith could appeal to many Catholic voters, according to a new poll from Catholics for Choice. According to the report;

Seven in ten (70%) of those polled say that the views of Catholic
bishops are unimportant to them in deciding for whom to vote and a similarly
large proportion (73%) says they believe Catholic politicians are under no religious
obligation to vote on issues the way the bishops recommend.
Catholic voters show little interest in so-called values issues to help
them decide who should be the next president. Instead, they want the next
president to focus on improving the economy, ending the war in Iraq
and keeping the country safe from terrorism.

“Catholics are listening
carefully to what the candidates have to say, but very few are following the
dictates of the Catholic bishops when it comes to politics,” said Jon
O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice. “While Catholic
Republicans and Democrats and McCain and Obama voters may disagree on national
priorities, majorities of all of these voters strongly agree that Catholics are
not obligated to heed the bishops’ recommendations,” adding that,
“Sixty-nine percent of Catholics do not feel obligated to vote against
candidates who support abortion. Despite what the US bishops promote, the majority of
Catholics disagree with the bishops about a wide range of sexual and
reproductive health issues.”

The poll went on to say;

On many issues, Catholics tend to mirror the electorate at large. In
particular, Catholic voters do not approve of schools teaching abstinence-only
programs in schools. Six in ten (64%) oppose requiring high school sex education
programs to only teach abstinence. They also believe insurance companies should
be required to cover and pharmacists required to sell birth control pills.
Three-quarters of Catholics support requiring health insurance plans to cover
birth control pills (75%). Nearly eight in ten (78%) oppose allowing
pharmacists to refuse to fill birth control prescriptions.

This poll further demonstrates just how far outside the mainstream of American politics — and even the views of Catholics in the pews — anti-choice lobbyists and the far-right fringe social conservatives really are.

The horse-race aspect of the poll showed breakdowns among Catholic voters, prior to the Biden announcement, as follows;

  • Obama 42%, McCain 40%, Undecided 17%
  • Among White Catholics McCain leads 47% to 37%
  • Among Hispanic Catholics, (one-in-six Catholics are Hispanic) Obama leads 61% to 23%
  • Catholics 18-34 prefer Obama 47% to 41%
  • Women under 45 favor Obama 48% to 37%
  • Men under 45 favor McCain 46% to 41%


Upping the Ante for Tom Ridge

McCain made it clear he was going to force Obama’s hand to select his Veep first. Biden’s strong reach into Pennsylvania (born in Scranton, often referred to as the state’s third Senator owing to Delaware’s proximity and his prominence in the Philadelphia media market), could push McCain one step closer to selecting pro-choice former Governor Tom Ridge. Social conservatives have made it clear that they consider the selection of a pro-choice Republican as a significant slap in the face, but for a McCain campaign trying to assert his long lost maverick image, Obama’s move toward Biden may force the Ridge pick. The screams and cries you will hear from social conservatives, if that happens, should be considered the death rattle of any influence by extremist social conservatives in the GOP.

The only other high-powered choice that could satisfy some social conservatives is former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, who will not satisfy all of them.

Note on Poll

Because some people will question a poll commissioned by Catholics for Choice, I’m including the methodology description below and will note that during 20 years of working in DC and reading polls on a range of issues from various firms, I have tremendous confidence in the integrity of the firm that conducted this poll.

Poll Methodology: Catholics for Choice commissioned this non-partisan and wide-ranging national
survey dealing with both international and domestic issues. From July 8 to
July 15, the prominent DC polling firm Belden Russonello & Stewart surveyed
1,033 Catholics who are likely voters in the 2008 presidential election. The
survey included an oversample of 200 Latino Catholic likely voters for a total
of 295 Latino interviews.
The survey has a ±3.1 percentage-point margin of sampling error for a
random sample of this size. The margin of error for results of the Hispanic
subsample is ±5.7 percentage points. The demographic characteristics of the
sample have been weighted statistically to bring age, race and region into
their proper proportions for likely Catholic voters based on 2004 exit poll



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  • scott-swenson

    Biden gets how far outside the mainstream the far-right is, in substance and tactics when he said today in Springfield:

    I’ve been disappointed in my friend John McCain who gave into the right-wing of his party and yielded to the very swiftboat politics that he once deplored.

    Chris Matthews makes a good point of analysis picking up on this following the speech that Americas are tired of the divisive politics and extremism. Certainly there are not many issues more than abortion (as witnessed by extremist comments on this site from the far-right) that has contributed to this divisiveness. Their tactics and their focus on very narrow issues on the fringe, rather than finding common ground on education and prevention to reduce unintended pregnancies are how they play out on issues of sexual and reproductive health. Regardless of party, Americans are seeking that common ground on these and other issues and Biden is right to point out that the John McCain he knows would not support. Unfortunately that John McCain has been captured by the right wing and Bush-Cheney-Rove politics.

    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • invalid-0

    We’re lucky that Obama did not compromise and selected a long-time friend of choice. The convention is a perfect opportunity to show America how very mainstream choice values are. One good way to highlight it might be to have everyone one at the convention wear tee shirts with the words “Abortion is a Moral Good” in fluorescent letters. I think it would bring tears to many eyes if they dimmed the lights so that only that phrase (which I got from this post) was visible, and everybody starting chanting it for ten minutes — led of course by Obama. It’s about time people got the message!!!!!!

  • invalid-0

    It is a fair criticism by those of us who follow the faith to criticize one who holds the name, but not the views of our faith. People who follow their faith are considered to be “faithful,” not “extremists.” Those that do not follow what they profess, we call “hypocrites.” Pro-life is not an extreme position just like pro-choice is not an extreme position. They are two different views on very sensitive issue. Your characterization of those that follow the Catholic faith as being “extremist” is in danger of insulting us all, whether we approve of Biden’s politics or disapprove of his religious sincerity.