President Barack Obama shakes hands with Pope Benedict XVI
In nine of the past ten US presidential elections the majority of the Catholic vote has gone to the person who won the election.

Little wonder then that the furor over the Bishop’s attacks on President Obama’s contraception plan created such waves.

In five of those elections, the Catholic vote was within a point of the overall margin of victory, a clear indicator of how vital the vote is.

There is a massive push on for the Catholic vote in both political parties this election season.

As the critical swing vote in key states, they will sway the election.
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The Reagan Democrats, the Irish, Italian, Polish, Catholic blue collar vote, so prominent in Ohio, Pennsylvania and key Midwest states, has chosen the winner a stunning 90 per cent of the time.

Little wonder that in 2008, Barack Obama trumpeted the support of now US Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney, Chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers and as Irish Catholic as you can get.

Rooney campaigned widely for the president and was seen as a vital factor in Obama’s victory in Pennsylvania.

Obama won the Catholic vote by 54 per cent to 46 per cent nationally against John McCain though it must be noted that number includes Hispanic Catholics.

Catholic voter make up a quarter of the electorate and as Gerald Seib wrote in The Wall Street Journal this week “They rank right up there with Ohio as a bellwether of presidential-election outcomes.”

It is not surprising then that the furor over the Obama contraception debate has become so heated. There is a huge amount on the line.

The Catholic Bishops have vehemently opposed his plan but the key question is whether their flock is behind them?

Opinion polls of Catholics indicate they are not.

Several polls show Catholics, by a wide margin, feel that contraceptive care should be covered in any health care plan regardless of where that plan is for.

That would hardly be surprising Bishops oppose contraception but 98 per cent of Catholics use them, likewise the bishop’s stances on gays and abortion are supported far less by the ordinary rank and file Catholics.

That fundamental disconnect has only grown larger since the church sex scandals has removed much of the authority of the bishops.

Parishioners now feel less inclined than ever to take their cue from Rome, especially when it involves matters of sexuality.

At the same time there is hardly overwhelming support for the Obama position either, and it begs the question of who will eventually end up winning out on this debate?

Will the contraceptive issue hurt Obama in November or will the Church leaders once again prove they are out of touch with many ordinary Catholics and how they live their lives?

It may not matter much if the latest opinion poll from The New York Times showing Rick Santorum ahead of Mitt Romney in a national poll of Republican voters is to be believed.

Santorum, a deeply conservative Catholic, is simply too extreme and would prove a disaster for the Republican Party.

Ironically, with a Catholic candidate running, it may be the one time their vote is not critical.