No shortage of issues piquing voter interest in midterm elections

IMAGE: CNS/Theresa Laurence, Tennessee Register

By Mark Pattison

(CNS) — With the clock toward the Nov. 6 midterm elections ticking away, there
are some parallels between the findings of a Sept. 26 Pew Research Center
survey on issues of key concern to voters and issues outlined in the U.S. bishops’ “Forming Consciences for Faithful
Citizenship,” a document meant to provide a moral framework Catholic voters can use to analyze issues.

economy? Check. Immigration? Check. The environment? Check. Terrorism? Check.
Abortion? Check. Health care? Check. Discrimination? Check. Social Security?

Court appointments — an issue few could have foreseen — topped all comers in
the Pew survey, with 76 percent calling it very important. Voters in the Pew
survey also ranked as very important, at rates between 66 and 69 percent, gun
policy, Medicare and taxes. Issues garnering between 53 and 60 percent interest
were the federal budget deficit, trade policy and drug addiction.

bishops also noted as among their chief concerns physician-assisted suicide,
materialism, same-sex marriage, religious freedom both at home and abroad, the promotion
of peace, marriage and family life, Catholic education, media issues, and
global solidarity.

In “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” traditionally issued a year in advance of a presidential election but applicable to the midterms, the bishops noted the
contradictions in American life.

“We are
a nation founded on ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’ but the
right to life itself is not fully protected, especially for unborn children,
the terminally ill, and the elderly, the most vulnerable members of the
American family. We are called to be peacemakers in a nation at war. We are a
country pledged to pursue ‘liberty and justice for all,’ but we are too often
divided across lines of race, ethnicity and economic inequality,” they said.

“We are
a nation of immigrants, struggling to address the challenges of many new
immigrants in our midst. We are a society built on the strength of our
families, called to defend marriage and offer moral and economic supports for
family life. We are a powerful nation in a violent world, confronting terror
and trying to build a safer, more just, more peaceful world. We are an affluent
society where too many live in poverty and lack health care and other
necessities of life.”

The Pew
survey indicated that, with higher interest in this midterm election,
Democratic voters’ overall interest ranks above that of Republicans.

care had slipped as a top voter issue in recent years, according to Sister Carol
Keehan, a Daughter of Charity, who is head of the Catholic Health Association,
but the concern now is lawmakers’ “efforts at undermining the Affordable Care Act, while they (politicians) haven’t
destroyed it, they have made it difficult. And they have done things that
caused the cost of insurance to go up.”

finally got people in this country to be able to be calm when they had, or
their children had, serious diseases,” Sister Keehan said. “Because before, it
was ‘pre-existing conditions,’ so if you changed insurance companies, you would
get insurance for everything except for what you need it for. Changing
insurance is just as deadly to your economic security as it is to your health.”

lamented the catch-22 facing many American families. “You think of the family
that’s able to get Medicaid because of the Medicaid expansion, or the family that’s
able to get insurance,” she said, “and all of a sudden, you can’t get insurance
anymore. … These are not rich people” who are being affected, Sister Keehan
added, “and you have a Justice Department that says even though there’s a law,
we’re not going to defend the law.”

Keehan said, “It’s no way to treat an American family. … It’s particularly
vicious given the massive tax break we gave to the top 1 percent” last year.

Quigley, vice president of communications for the Susan B. Anthony List, which promotes
pro-life politicians, talked about her groups efforts in an Oct. 3 phone
interview with Catholic News Service.

“We are
active in states where President Trump won by an overwhelming margin and where
Democratic senators are up for re-election,” Quigley said, mentioning Florida
and West Virginia. “Voters are very much absolutely motivated by pro-life

spoke of targeting “unreliable pro-life voters — people who are pro-life, but
typically don’t go out to vote in nonpresidential election years. It gives
them another reason to vote for the pro-life challenger.” She said her
organization also is “talking to Democratic groups like Hispanics and women who
identify as moderate on pro-life issues.”

When told
that Democrats rated abortion an even higher concern than did Republicans in
the Pew survey, Quigley’s initial response was, “Interesting.” “I think a lot of that has to do with what we are hearing right now — the Supreme Court confirmation a battle,” she added.

violence has persisted in the headlines since the Feb. 14 mass shooting at
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, followed by
near-weekly mass shootings, including an incident in early October in which seven
South Carolina police officers were shot, one of them fatally.

challenge with any justice issue is to keep people engaged and mobilized even
when the news cycle moves on,” said an Oct. 4 email to CNS from John
Gehring, the Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, an advocacy
group based in Washington.

people pay attention to gun violence when there is a high-profile shooting and
then interest can fade, but we continue to work with faith-based activists and
clergy who know that gun violence is a pro-life issue. Election cycles come and
go, but long-term organizing builds capacity for change.”

rural America, the key issues are an amalgam of the economy, the environment,
health care, trade and drug addiction, according to James Ennis, executive
director of Catholic Rural Life.

still a farm bill waiting to be approved, Ennis noted. The old one expired
Sept. 30, and Congress passed a continuing resolution to extend it to Dec. 7.

“Underneath this is a bigger issue, and that’s the farm crisis, especially
among dairy farmers … who are struggling to make ends meet,” he said. “One of
the related issues is tariffs, and the soybean farmers. Congress can argue that
it’s not that large a part of the economy and not a big deal, but to soybean
farmers it is a big deal,” Ennis added. “Already prices have dropped once news
of the tariffs was announced.”

to health care is “a real challenge because of the economics of hospitals
closing due to not being able to make it in rural communities,” he said. “The
other related piece to that is the opioid crisis.

“The Senate passed a large
bill, a great bill (Oct. 3), and that matters. But it’s a crisis in rural
communities. So many people know relatives, friends, children who are addicted.
There are many drug overdoses,” Ennis added. “I would argue that it’s a symptom
of the environment in rural communities that makes opioids a diversion” to
their physical, emotional and financial straits.

concerns persist in rural America, Ennis said. “We’re talking now about water
contamination with high nitrate levels. A report just came out of the increase
in nitrate levels in both groundwater and surface water in communities that are
near agriculture. There’s a significant level of nitrates due to fertilizer and
runoff. This is happening not only in Minnesota but Iowa, New York and

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Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison

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