A Brookings Insitution analyst has linked older white Catholics to a surge in support for Senator Hillary Clinton ahead of crucial primary battles against rival Senator Barack Obama.
White Catholics have become a key base for Senator Clinton in her quest for the Democratic presidential nomination and one she needs to win by a huge margin, a conference on faith and politics heard on Monday, Javno reports.
William Galston of the Brookings Institution presented one of the most detailed portraits to date of the Catholic vote in last month's Pennsylvania primary, which the New York senator won to keep her battle with Illinois Senator Obama alive.
"Catholics have emerged in the course of this primary season as part of Clinton's base that she not only has to win but win with a strong majority," Galston said.
About a quarter of Americans consider themselves Catholic.
Referring to primaries in Indiana and North Carolina, Galston said that, while Indiana was less Catholic than many other states, 18 percent of people there still claimed membership in that faith and the percentage of Catholic Democratic primary voters there would probably be even higher.
"So doing well (with Catholics) will give her an edge over Senator Obama in Indiana," he told Reuters after presenting his analysis at "The Faith Angle" conference in Key West, Florida, organised by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
Senator Clinton's margin of victory over Obama among white Catholics in Pennsylvania was 72 percent to 28 percent, Galston said based on exit poll data. This suggests they are a constituency that would be vital for her should she emerge as the Democratic candidate for the November presidential race against presumptive Republican nominee John McCain.
Clinton did better among white Catholics than she did among white Protestants by 13 points in Pennsylvania. Among those 45 years of age and older she did better among white Catholics by 15 points than she did among white Protestants.
Galston said compared to white Protestants, white Catholics were a bit older, somewhat less educated and in a lower income bracket but the differences here "are not large enough to explain the overall outcome."
He suggested that there were several possible reasons for Clinton's strong appeal to Catholics.
These include her "focus on bread and butter" issues which he said gelled well with Catholic notions of social justice. He also said that in Catholic tradition leadership has often been linked to age, which would be an advantage for the older Clinton with the group against the younger Obama.
Catholics Have Become Key Clinton Base - Analyst (Javno, 6/5/08)