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Catholic Voters Reject Political Influence of Bishops

October 11, 2012

New Poll Reveals How Catholics View Key Election Issues

As the two Catholic candidates for vice president prepare to face each other in a debate tonight, a new poll of 1,000 self-identified Catholic likely votersshows that, despite the best efforts of the bishops, they are least concerned about abortion and gay marriage. Catholic voters are most concerned about jobs, public education and healthcare.

Amidst growing concerns about Catholic priests and bishops using the pulpit and church resources to tell Catholics how to vote, a large majority does not feel a religious obligation to listen to them. More than four out of five Catholic voters (83 percent) feel no obligation to vote the way bishops recommend and three-quarters of Catholic voters (76 percent) do not believe Catholic politicians are obligated to vote the way bishops desire.

“As we prepare to vote in this election, we have witnessed a concerted effort by the US bishops to convince Catholics that some issues are more important than others,” said Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice. “The Fortnight for Freedom was just one part of their campaign. Some bishops and priests have been less subtle, giving explicit voting advice to congregants. In short, the bishops are trying to bully Catholics to vote in a certain way. This poll shows that the bishops’ efforts have been a spectacular failure. Catholics reject this type of politicking from the pulpit and refuse to be cowed by their religious leaders. Just like other Americans, Catholics care most about the bread and butter issues that affect our families when we consider the political decisions to be made come November 6.”

Denying communion for Catholics because they support abortion is very unpopular. There is not a single demographic group that would support the practice. It is even very unpopular among the most conservative Catholics voters: 65 percent of those who attend Mass weekly or more; 60 percent of Republicans; 58 percent of those who describe themselves as conservative; and 53 percent of self-described prolife Catholics disagree with this policy.

A strong majority of Catholic voters (79 percent) wants the next president to make jobs his highest priority. Only 28 percent of Catholic voters believe abortion should be the highest priority of the next administration. Gay marriage is even less of a priority than abortion among Catholics, with only 16 percent prioritizing the issue as the most important.

In addition, majorities of Catholics disagree with criminalizing abortion and do not want priests to withhold communion from those Catholics who support legal abortion. Those who strongly agree that abortion should be legal outnumber those who strongly disagree by a 2:1 margin.

John Russonello, partner at Belden Russonello Strategists, said, “This poll is one in a long line of polls that all tell the same two stories: first, Catholics do not listen to their bishops when making electoral decisions. In fact, they reject the bishops’ political views and make up their own minds about whom to vote for and what issues they care about. Second, Catholic voting patterns are consistent with those in the wider electorate. Watch how Catholics vote and predict the vote for president.”

The Catholic vote has been a key indicator of which presidential candidate would win the most votes in every election since 1972, the year in which exit polls began keeping track of Catholic voting data. In the presidential race, President Barack Obama holds a slim lead over Mitt Romney among US Catholics: 46 percent of likely Catholic voters support Obama while 41 percent support Romney; 12 percent are undecided.

Download the entire poll here.

Belden Russonello Strategists LLC conducted the survey of 1,000 Catholic likely voters in the 2012 general election on behalf of Catholics for Choice. This telephone survey used a national list of registered voters who had voted in either the 2008 or 2010 elections or those who had registered since 2010. Interviews were screened for likelihood of voting and Catholic identification. Interviews were conducted by telephone on September 18-24, 2012. The margin of sampling error for the survey is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence and is larger for subgroups within the survey.

To speak with the polling company, please call John Russonello at (202) 822 6090.