I do think that the key here is younger voters who generally as a majority are not tied into the traditional church structures but rather, engage in "spiritual tinkering" as Robert Wuthnow the great Princeton sociologist writes. They create a "virtual faith" to coin another phrase from Tom Beaudion the great Practical Theologian at Fordham (and who bought me lunch today--thanks!) and that leads them to merely be inspired by the many voices who call their experiences into greater light.
The clarity of the Bush administration when it came to their message on the war, America's security and even on economics may indeed have inspired the young people who actually went out and voted--but probably kept an apathetic bunch of people who saw no positive alternative to the institutional government at that time.
Contrast that with a very easily disputed message:
When the war is a fiasco and people, especially the young, are tired of it--having very specific plans for an alternative was a clear strength of the Obama message.
The campaign's message on having an alternative to simply combating Supreme Court justices and legislation with regard to life issues like abortion was also a secondary message that worked well--and especially was well-received amongst younger Catholics who generally again, are not tied into the message of the Bishops but still are concerned with objective evil like abortion (in short--they don't see abortion as being peachy keen but also don't see an institutional alternatives to overriding the law either--until now).
Moreover, young people are SOLUTION based. They are the God Googlers who expect instant gratification in all areas of their life. Once the economy tanked and it was clear that Mccain had no answers for the crumbling of the economy and planned to keep with the Bush tax plan--a clear alternative was a young person's only choice. I think Obama wins regardless of the economic collapse but add that to the mix and he bodyslammed McCain (in the figurative sense, of course).
54% of Catholics voted for Obama. The bigger question in the inner Catholic world now is whether or not younger Catholics informed their conscience on issues like abortion and voted for Obama anyway, saw both candidates as morally reprehensible on the life questions and voted for what they perceived to be the lesser of two evils, or ignored the issue entirely.
Your humble blogger is Mike Hayes, a well-known expert in the world of young adult ministry (20s and 30s) in the Catholic Church. Mike is the author of Googling God (Paulist, 2007) where he explores both the chaotic world that young people live in and their religious reactions to that world. He also explores the age of instant gratification and how churches can respond to the needs of the young adult age by using technology alongside more traditional ministry methods.
Mike founded the award winning BustedHalo.com® in 2001 and continues to contribute to it as the editor of their catechetical section appropriately named Googling God.
Recently, he left BustedHalo® to focus on more direct ministry with young people at St Joseph University Parish as a Campus Minister for the South Campus at the University at Buffalo.
He has only two loves: his adorable wife, Marion and a nine pound chihuahua named Haze, who still find him amusing enough to let them live in their home.