Haley Barbour Compares Obama to Jimmy Carter in 1980

Blue-collar Catholic voters not keen on Obama's policies, but still like him as a person.

By + More
Former Gov. Haley Barbour tells reporters that says he's "very comfortable" with his decision to grant pardons or other clemency to more than 200 people in the last days in office at a news conference in Ridgeland, Miss.

Blue-collar Catholic voters might not be fond of the president's policies, but they still maintain a favorable opinion of the Commander In Chief's social graces.

[See pictures of Obama's Re-election Campaign.]

Obama's likability doesn't keep former Mississippi Governor and former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour up at night though.

"People liked Jimmy Carter. People thought he was a good man, a good person. He got 41 percent of the vote and he was similarly situated to Obama," Barbour says, "The point is just because they think you are a good person, that doesn't necessarily mean that they'll vote for ya."

As part of its "Target Voter Series", Resurgent Republic, a conservative public opinion group, surveyed blue-collar Catholic voters in the swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania and found the voters had less than glowing things to say about Obama's job performance, describing it as "mediocre," "overpromised," "underdelivered," and "expensive."

Those surveyed all voted for Obama in 2008, but are undecided today. None of the voters in the focus groups had college degrees and most of lived in households where the income was less than $60,000 a year. The blue-collar Catholic voters expressed concerns about everything from rising gas prices and unemployment to not being able to afford a college education for their children.

One woman surveyed said she was afraid the country had entered into a new phase, one that no longer guaranteed the American Dream.

"My fear is that the new normal is that you work hard, you don't get paid for it, you don't get a raise," she said.

John McLaughlin, CEO and Partner of McLaughlin and Associates, conducted focus groups and  said there is an overwhelming resentment among the blue-collar constituency.

"They see themselves as middle class and believe they are carrying the country while the rich and poor are playing by different rules," says McLaughlin. "[If there is] any kind of recovery, they don't feel it, they don't believe it, and they judge the economy by their own fiscal pocketbook concerns. They kind of like the president, but they're not strongly tied to him at all so they are really up for grabs."

In 2008, Catholics made up 27 percent of the national vote and Obama took 54 percent of them.

But in Ohio and Pennsylvania, where Resurgent Republic conducted its focus groups, the race looked much different in 2008. Obama's margin of victory in Ohio was much narrower, with the president earning just 51 percent of the state's Catholic vote. And in Pennsylvania, McCain actually earned the majority of the Catholic vote.

[Read Mitt Romney Closes on 1,144 Delegate Target With Tuesday Sweep.]

Barbour says Romney's best strategy for winning over groups like blue-collar Catholics is to stick to the facts and shine light on Obama's economic record.

"They already feel that the economy is much worse than it was before. Unemployment is worse, underemployment is underreported. The more facts they get confirm their negative view of the economy and the direction of the country," Barbour says.

McLaughlin warns the GOP should stay away from controversial social issues, adding that voters just are not paying attention to the hot button debates.

In focus groups McLaughlin says most blue-collar Catholics were not aware of the fiery debate that ensued last month over whether or not Catholic institutions should be required to provide healthcare coverage for contraceptives.

"There was not a real understanding of it," McLaughlin says. "They looked at it in their own terms. We did get some comments about how you shouldn't go about people's personal beliefs, but a lot of them just were not aware of it."

Barbour says there is a simple explanation for why voters are not invested in all the election drama.

"Unlike y'all, they don't think the campaign's started yet," he joked to a room of reporters.

  • Check out U.S. News Weekly: an insider's guide to politics and policy.
  • Read Obama Making His Pitch to Young Voters in Swing States.
  • See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.