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Is There a Catholic Vote? Findings of a New Poll Commissioned by Catholics for a Free Choice

July 13, 2004

Major new poll demonstrates Catholics most concerned about peace, security and economic stability; show less concern about cultural issues

Washington, DC—Catholics for a Free Choice ( CFFC) released a major new poll today indicating that litmus test issues for the US bishops have little influence on the concerns of most Catholics in this political season.

The View from Mainstream America: The Catholic Voter in Summer 2004 demonstrates that Catholics rank protecting the US from terrorism and resolving the war in Iraq as the top priorities for the next president, with protecting jobs and Social Security and improving health care, Medicare, and public education filling out the next tier of concerns. Protecting the right to choose, promoting human rights, and advancing gay rights were at the bottom of their priorities.

CFFC commissioned this non-partisan and wide-ranging poll dealing with both international and domestic issues. The poll also asked about respondents’ presidential election preference and reactions to the recent controversy regarding prochoice Catholic policy makers and communion. Catholics were asked their views on the war in Iraq , national security, tax cuts, jobs, education, and health  as well as social issues including abortion, stem cell research, gay marriage, and assisted suicide. From June 2-11, Washington DC-based polling firm Belden Russonello & Stewart surveyed 2,239 Catholics, including 366 Hispanic Catholics. The survey has a ±2.1 percentage-point margin of error at the 95% level of confidence. The margin of error for results of the Hispanic subsample is ±5.2 percentage points.

Of all the issues in the survey, the most important factor in determining how Catholics will vote in November is their confidence in President Bush’s ability to resolve the conflict in Iraq: at the time of the poll, 54% had confidence in the president’s ability to resolve the war in Iraq, while 46% were not confident.

The high priority Catholics place on protecting Social Security and improving Medicare and public education is underscored by the findings that majorities support canceling some of the tax cuts and using the money to protect Social Security and improve Medicare (74%) or using the money to improve public education (68%).

The findings contrast sharply with the public agenda of the nation’s Catholic bishops, who have by and large concentrated on candidates’ positions on abortion, stem cell research, and assisted suicide, yet have remained relatively silent on the issue of the war, the economy, Social Security, and Medicare – traditional areas of concern for Catholics.

“Have the bishops even considered the issues important to Catholics?” asked Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice. “Sixty-one percent of Catholics support legal abortion, and Catholics have made it clear that this is not a key election issue for them. The fixation of the US bishops on the issue of abortion is diminishing their relevance and effectiveness as moral leaders for the Catholic church.”

The bishops’ effort to influence how Catholics vote does not influence Catholics.

  • By more than two to one (70% to 30%), Catholics say the views of Catholic bishops are not important to them in deciding for whom to vote.
  • 83% believe that politicians have no religious obligation to vote according to a bishop’s recommendation.
  • Even among frequent church-goers, only 15% say the bishops’ views are “very” important in deciding for whom to vote.

The survey also demonstrated widespread antipathy toward some bishops’ recent decision to deny communion to prochoice Catholic politicians.

  • More than three-quarters (78%) of Catholics disapprove of Catholic bishops denying communion to prochoice Catholic politicians.
  • 65% of Catholics who frequently attend mass (once a week or more) and always receive communion disagree with the bishops denying communion to prochoice Catholic politicians.

Other key findings of The View from Mainstream America: The Catholic Voter in Summer 2004:

  • Catholics are divided in the presidential race: 40% are for President George Bush and 40% for Senator John Kerry. Ralph Nader receives 2%, and 18% are undecided.
  • Incorporating undecided Catholics leaning toward a candidate into the total, Bush garners 47% and Kerry receives 49% of the Catholic vote.
  • Catholics who belong to one or more of the following subgroups feel more strongly than others about the need to cancel some tax cuts to protect Social Security and Medicare: Silent Generation (age 59+); male Hispanics; widowed, separated or divorced; less educated; lower income; non-church-going; liberal; and Democrat.
  • Seven in ten Catholic voters (71%) support the death penalty for convicted murderers, including 60% of church-going Catholics.
  • Catholics lean towards support for economic assistance to foreign countries in the form of foreign economic aid, 55% to 44%; however, 69% agree we need to focus on the needs at home and should cut back on assistance.
  • 74% of Catholic voters support allowing public schools to start each day with a prayer in the classroom.
  • 56% of Catholics lean in favor of school vouchers to help parents pay for tuition costs in private or religious schools with tax revenue.
  • Majorities of Catholics across demographic groups support stem cell research, including conservative Catholics (60%) and frequent church-goers (56%).
  • A small majority (53%) of Catholic voters support “making it legal for doctors to assist in the suicide of a terminally ill patient.”

For more information or a copy of the poll, please contact Michelle Ringuette at (202) 986-6093 x208.

To view the executive summary of the poll: