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The Most Pressing Concern for Blue Collar Catholics is Improving their Financial Security Posted on April 26, 2012 | Focus Group

As part of our Target Voter Series, Resurgent Republic sponsored four focus groups among Blue Collar Catholic voters in Cleveland, Ohio and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. These respondents all voted for President Obama in 2008, but are undecided on the generic presidential ballot today. Conducted by McLaughlin & Associates, the groups were split between those whose religious beliefs are culturally based (participants in Cleveland) and regular churchgoers (participants in Pittsburgh). Not surprisingly these voters tend to lean left. Some had union ties and others support public sector involvement in social justice programs, especially the voters in Pittsburgh. The participants also strongly identify as working class. They did not have a college degree, and the annual household income for the majority of participants was less than $60,000.

Key Findings

Even considering their religious beliefs, these voters’ personal fiscal and pocketbook concerns overwhelmingly shape how they view the direction of the country and the health of the economy. By nature, these Blue Collar Catholics lean left, but they are not strongly tied to President Obama and are likely up for grabs this November. Whoever appeals to this target demographic will do so by connecting with their personal sense of suffering and the issues they care about, primarily their desire for quality, family-supporting jobs.

Additional key findings include:

  • These voters are personally and severely affected by the economic downturn and their primary concern is their own economic well-being.
  • Working class voters believe they are carrying the country while the rich and poor play by different rules.
  • President Obama holds moderate support among these voters, but he does not garner strong loyalty among these participants who voted for him in 2008.

The Economy and Political Climate

  1. These voters are personally and severely affected by the economic downturn and their primary concern is their own economic well-being. They hold a pessimistic, negative outlook on their personal financial situation, and they view the national economy as dismal. Everything from the price of gas, unemployment, job insecurity, cost of health care, cost of college, and personal debt contribute to their pessimism on the economy and political environment. There was hardly any mention of positive economic indicators, like the rising stock market or any improvement in the unemployment rate. Nearly all of these voters feel financially insecure, and even three participants said they are going to lose their job in the coming weeks. There is great sensitivity to cost of living expenses, most notably rising gasoline costs. Some feel as though their income only goes far enough to cover transportation costs. One male voter in Cleveland did express some optimism for his financial situation, but it was at the expense of others. He said, "Where I work, there have been cut backs, so I get a lot of overtime. It’s good for me."
  2. Universally, the participants believe the "real unemployment" is significantly higher than reported and that "quality jobs" are not being created. One female voter in Pittsburgh began this discussion by asking, "Is the reduction of unemployment an accomplishment? Not when you know five people who are unemployed." These groups feel the national unemployment rate is not realistic and believe there are many unemployed who “fall off the rolls." In both Cleveland and Pittsburgh, there was consensus that the real unemployment rate is closer to 14 or 15 percent. In describing his desire for a quality job, one Cleveland male said, "You are not going to find a job making the same money you used to. If there is a $20 an hour job out there, the line is out the door."
  3. Working class voters believe they are carrying the country while the rich and poor play by different rules. They see themselves as hardworking people who pay the lion's share of taxes and have little to show for their work in terms of career advancement, financial security or a better quality of life. Conversely, they see the poor and unemployed as taking advantage of their hard work by collecting welfare. They see the rich as not contributing their fair share of taxes and getting richer at their expense. Describing her feeling of being caught in the middle, one female voter in Cleveland said, "My fear is that this is the new normal. You work hard and don’t get paid for it. You don’t get a raise."
  4. Personal anxiety due to financial insecurity is a more pressing concern than the national debt. There is universal agreement that the level of federal spending, deficits, and debt is too high and remains out of control. Moreover, President Obama increasingly owns the deficit and debt among these voters, while he escapes sole responsibility regarding the economy. One Cleveland woman said about Obama, "He keeps adding to the deficit and there is no end in sight. We have to control it."

    When comparing the national debt to their personal situation, their own financial insecurity is the more pressing concern. Nearly all of these voters have been forced to "cut back" during tough economic times, and several participants had to take on additional work to make ends meet. For the most part, they find it difficult to articulate how the national debt affects them personally. Even so, they strongly believe the federal government would be better off if it operated like a family budget. If the participants have to live within their means, Washington should too. One Pittsburgh woman said Congress should operate "just like you do in your home budget." Her recommendation is to have Congress determine "what money is going out and what is coming in. They don’t do that. They use money that comes in to pay for something new." In addition, there is real resentment at endless borrowing from China. Similar to the frustration voiced about the outsourcing of jobs, the fact that so much of the nation’s debt is owned by China strikes at the heart of their concern that America's standing in the world is on a steady decline.

President Barack Obama

  1. President Obama holds moderate support among these working class voters. Part of this sentiment is that these voters are more likely to identify as Democrats, yet they also believe President Obama is doing the best he can considering the challenges he inherited when taking office. They do not hold him responsible for the current state of the economy and give him the benefit of the doubt in comparison to Congress. The challenge for President Obama is the most common arguments these voters give in defense of his presidency are not linked to his job performance. While they believe the President is trying, these participants do not express strong loyalty to President Obama or believe his policies have made things better.
  2. These participants view the auto bailouts as a net positive even while voicing concern over the details. Unlike the economic stimulus, several respondents approve of the auto bailouts and give President Obama some credit for this policy. They also differentiate between the auto bailouts, which they feel helped the working class and saved jobs, and the bank bailouts, which are seen as only benefiting Wall Street executives. In general, this demographic is receptive to policies that boost the manufacturing industry and prevent companies from sending jobs overseas. However, these voters did express concern that the federal government still owns stock in General Motors and question the wisdom of the federal government picking winners and losers in the marketplace.

Health Care Reform

  1. At best, the participants are mixed toward ObamaCare, expressing concern over rising premiums and support for adding coverage of preexisting conditions. Just as the rising cost of food and gas shapes their opinion on the economy, their perspective on health care is primarily determined by the financial impact on their bottom line. When asked for a topline impression of the Affordable Health Care Act, a Pittsburgh man found the title quite ironic. "It's not too affordable. I can't afford it, and I make a decent living. But still, it will cost me $650 to $700 a month, right out of my paycheck. That’s not affordable." Several respondents gave examples of how premiums have increased since health care reform was passed. Despite frustration over costs, the participants approve of covering preexisting conditions and providing coverage for children ages 26 and under. Yet it is clear that those benefits are secondary to their overwhelming concern about the cost of health care. Several participants cited examples of employers not hiring new workers, not extending hours for part timers, dropping health care or raising costs to workers all as a result of ObamaCare.
  2. In addition to their concern about the rising cost of health care, the participants hold very little affinity for the individual mandate. Participants strongly object to being forced by the federal government to purchase health care, and many worry that such a policy will impact their current health care coverage. One Pittsburgh woman said, "They want it to affect everybody. I have health care and pay reasonable rates. I don’t feel like I should be forced to take what they want. If I don’t need it, I don’t think I should be forced."
  3. When focused on the details, support for the religious mandate weakens, although the primary concern for these working class voters is improving their own financial security. The participants are generally uninformed about the religious mandate ObamaCare imposes on religious organizations that are morally or conscientiously opposed to birth control, abortion, or sterilization. Many of the participants were not aware that the Catholic Church would be forced to provide insurance coverage for procedures that are in direct conflict to its teachings. After having the issue more clearly explained, including that many religious hospitals are self-insured, the participants support for the measure weakened. This issue was more relevant with the regular churchgoers in Pittsburgh, but overall, it is another example of how their own financial insecurity is their dominant concern. The impact of this debate is likely to take place outside of the news headlines and with a demographic not living paycheck to paycheck.

Energy

  1. To these working class voters, the rising cost of gasoline is more pressing than the debate about domestic energy production. All these voters know is the cost of gasoline is going up, and they cannot afford it. Other than that, the participants had little knowledge or awareness of an "all of the above" energy policy. Some people had heard of the Keystone Pipeline, but were not attune to the details. A few people thought President Obama rejected the Keystone Pipeline because it had "something to do with the environment." As one woman in Pittsburgh said, "I have a small economical car, and it costs too much to fill up. It costs $40. Sometimes I don't have it, so I put in $5." When forced to fill up the tank in such small increments, few debates in Washington seem personally relevant.
  2. While it wasn't a topic of conversation in Cleveland, the Pittsburgh groups did support energy production from coal and hydrofracking. Not surprisingly, respondents in Pittsburgh support the use of clean coal technology and believe the industry is vital to the livelihood of many in the community. These voters want to hear about the use of clean coal as part of a broader energy policy. Several other respondents noted how the increase use of hydrofracking creates jobs and additional income for those who hold leases on mineral rights. They are closely following this debate, including any potential impact on the environment, and it is mostly perceived as a net positive.

BLUE COLLAR CATHOLIC FOCUS GROUPS

The Target Voter Series is a project of 24 focus groups among Obama Independents who are undecided on the generic presidential ballot. The focus groups took place in 11 battleground states among six key demographic groups (Suburban Women, Young Voters, Seniors, Independents, Hispanics, and Blue Collar Catholics). This is the final memo of our six-part series.

Cleveland, Ohio
March 20, 2012
Cultural Catholics Split by Gender
Conducted by McLaughlin & Associates

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
April 3, 2012
Regular Churchgoers Split by Gender
Conducted by McLaughlin & Associates

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