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US Catholics Split on Presidential Race

June 28, 2004

With 40% for Bush and 40% for Kerry, a new poll from Catholics for a Free Choice shows confidence in the president to resolve war in Iraq drives Catholic vote

WASHINGTON , DC—The most important factor in the upcoming election in determining how Catholics will vote is their confidence in President Bush’s ability to resolve the conflict in Iraq. A survey among 2,239 Catholics voters finds that level of confidence in the president to manage the war is the best predictor for whom a Catholic voter will cast their ballot in November.

As the US hands back sovereignty to Iraq, Catholic voters are divided but lean toward keeping US troops “in Iraq as long as necessary to establish democracy and stability” (54%) over “bringing the troops home within six months, even if democracy and stability are not established” (45%). Similarly, Catholics are not sure if President Bush is up to the job of resolving the situation in Iraq. Catholic voters’ confidence in the president to resolve the war mirrors their division on policy: 54% have a “great deal” or “some” confidence in him (30% “great deal”); 46% report “not much” or “very little confidence” (24% “very little”) in his ability to resolve the war in Iraq. Ninety-six percent who have confidence intend to vote for President Bush; 88% who do not have confidence intend to vote for Senator Kerry. Hispanic Catholics are among the most likely to want the troops home (54%) and to lack confidence in the president on this issue (59% “not much” or “very little” confidence).

Traditionally, Catholic voters have represented more than quarter of the voting public and have switched from one party’s candidate for president to another’s as times change. However, one thing about the Catholic vote has remained constant over the last 27 years – whoever wins the most Catholic vote wins the election – or the popular vote, as in 2000. How goes the Catholic vote, so goes the country.

The complete poll will be released Tuesday,July 13. It is the largest and most statistically significant poll available of Catholic opinions on 2004 election issues and recent actions of the US bishops. From June 2-10, 2004, prominent DC polling firm Belden Russonello and Stewart surveyed 2,239 Catholics, including 366 Hispanic Catholics. Thirty-nine percent of the respondents indicated that they attend religious services one or more times a week. Fourteen percent attend at least once a month, 36 percent a few times a year, and 11 percent never attend religious services. The survey had a ±2.1 percentage-point margin of error.

Catholics in Political Life: Challenges to Faith in Democracy is a project of Catholics for a Free Choice designed toreveal insights into the motivations of Catholic voters as they consider the choices in the presidential campaign and to analyze how Catholics respond to the role of the Catholic hierarchy in the elections. Tomorrow: the Hispanic Catholic vote and Bush’s Hispanic problem.  To obtain a copy of the results, please contact Michelle Ringuette at (202) 986-6093.