Secular and Security-Minded: The Catholic Vote in Summer 2008: A National Opinion Survey of Likely Catholic Voters

By Russonello, Belden; Russonello, Stewart | Conscience, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Secular and Security-Minded: The Catholic Vote in Summer 2008: A National Opinion Survey of Likely Catholic Voters


Russonello, Belden, Russonello, Stewart, Conscience


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In the run-up to the 2008 US presidential elections, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops sought to ensure that its perspective on abortion was at the center of the political debate. Several bishops responded to comments by vice presidential nominee Senator Joseph Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi--both prochoice Catholic Democrats--when they explained their beliefs about abortion to the media.

In addition, on the eve of the final congressional session of 2008 and eight weeks before the election, the bishops' lobbying arm, the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, launched a series of print ads outlining the bishops' opposition to embryonic stem-cell research and abortion. In a surprisingly defensive move, the committee also released a fact sheet, "Respect for Unborn Human Life: The Church's Constant Teaching," purporting to show that Catholic teaching on abortion "has not changed and remains unchangeable." However, in doing so, it showed the exact opposite, outlining the different nuances that the hierarchy had on abortion through the ages.

As this poll shows, while the bishops continue in their attempts to make reproductive rights the primary national issue on which Catholics should base their vote, Catholic voters themselves place much greater priority on the basic bread-and-butter issues that most affect our country--the economy, war and health care.

CATHOLIC VOTERS, WHO MAKE UP 25% OF THE AMERICAN electorate, show little interest in so-called values issues to help them decide who should be the next president, according to a survey of 1,033 Catholic voters conducted July 8 to 15, 2008. Instead, they want the next president to focus on the basics of improving the economy, ending the war in Iraq, and keeping the country safe from terrorism.

For the last nine presidential elections, the Catholic vote has been a classic swing vote in American presidential politics, changing from support for the Democratic candidate to the Republican and back again. In every presidential election since 1972, the candidate who won the Catholic vote has won the popular vote nationwide, making the Catholic vote a reliable indicator of where American voters will land on Election Day.

This national survey is the third pre-presidential survey of Catholic voters that Belden Russonello & Stewart has conducted for Catholics for Choice (CFC). The results of the BRS/CFC Catholic voter surveys in October 2000 and June 2004 tracked closely with the way Catholics voted for president in November of those years.

The 2008 survey explores a diversity of issues, including Catholic voters' presidential preference, attitudes toward economic and national security issues, the war in Iraq, immigration, and social issues including abortion, pharmacist refusals to fill prescriptions for birth control, gay marriage, and abstinence-only education. The survey also investigates Catholic voters' opinions of the Catholic hierarchy's involvement in political issues. Some questions track attitudes from the 2004 survey.

The margin of sampling error for a random sample of this size is [+ or -] 3.1 percentage points, and [+ or -] 5-7 percentage points for the Latino oversample. The demographic characteristics of the sample have been weighted statistically to bring age, race and region into their proper proportions for likely Catholic voters based on 2004 exit poll data.

TIGHT RACE FOR PRESIDENT

At the time of the survey, 42% of Catholics would vote for Democrat Barack Obama and 40% would vote for Republican John McCain, with one in six (17%) undecided. McCain holds a slim lead among white Catholic voters (44% to 37%), while Obama is winning the Latino Catholic vote by a huge margin (61% to 23%). Latinos make up one in six Catholic voters.

The youngest voters, ages 18 to 34, prefer Obama over McCain 47% to 41%. When younger voters are combined with voters slightly older, the vote splits by gender: Catholic women under 45 years old go with Obama (48% to 37%) while men under 45 tend toward McCain (46% to 41%).

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