The View from Mainstream America: The Catholic Voter in Summer 2004: A National Opinion Survey of Likely Catholic Voters Conducted for Catholics for a Free Choice by Belden Russonello & Stewart

Conscience, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

The View from Mainstream America: The Catholic Voter in Summer 2004: A National Opinion Survey of Likely Catholic Voters Conducted for Catholics for a Free Choice by Belden Russonello & Stewart


AS ONE-QUARTER OF THE electorate, American Catholics represent more than an important voting group. Over the past three decades, the attitudes of Catholic voters across the United States have been a reliable indicator of the attitudes and preferences of the nation as a whole concerning politics in presidential elections. From 1972 through 2000, Catholic voters as a voting group have swung from one party to another to support the candidate who received the most votes nationally.

This year's survey investigates many topics, including Catholic voter attitudes toward the war in Iraq, domestic issues that matter to voters, presidential preference, social issues such as abortion, stem-cell research, and marriage of same-sex couples, as well as what these voters think about Catholic bishops' involvement in political issues.

COMPLEX AND CULTURAL

The poll reveals a Catholic electorate that is more complex than many observers have noted. It is defined by some special characteristics:

* The Catholic vote is more Hispanic (15%) and less African American (2%) than the entire electorate: 4% of the national electorate is Hispanic and 10% is African American.

* The Catholic vote is more urban, more northeastern, and less southern, and it is somewhat more identified with the Democratic Party than is the rest of the country. Thirty-six percent of Catholics are Democrats, compared to 31% of the nation.

* It is more a cultural voting group than a religious one. Catholics are making their political choices based on a candidate's position on the war in Iraq, terrorism and family security issues such as jobs and health care. As a group, they mirror the nation's generally prochoice position on abortion, and support stem-cell research and the death penalty. They are not taking their political cues from the Catholic bishops.

The survey revealed five broad points about Catholic voters.

1. Catholic voter preference in the presidential election is evenly divided, and resolving the situation in Iraq drives the Catholic vote.

2. The Catholic vote is secular and does not take direction from the Catholic bishops.

3. Catholic voters continue to support legal abortion and to depart from church teachings on other issues.

4. Catholic voters' priorities are security, jobs and health care.

5. Catholic Hispanic voters defy easy labels.

1. Catholic voter preference in the presidential election is evenly divided, and resolving the situation in Iraq drives the Catholic vote.

At the time of the poll, the presidential race is dead even among likely Catholic voters: 40% for President George W. Bush, 40% for Senator John Kerry, 2% for Ralph Nader, and 18% undecided. The best predictor in determining Catholic voting intentions is the level of confidence likely voters have in President Bush's ability to resolve the conflict in Iraq.

As the US hands back governing power to Iraq, Catholic voters are divided but lean more toward keeping US troops "in Iraq as long as necessary to establish democracy and stability" (54%) than toward "bringing the troops home within six months, even if democracy and stability are not established" (45%).

Similarly, Catholics are divided over whether President Bush is up to the job of resolving the situation in Iraq. Catholics voters' confidence in the president to resolve the war mirrors their division on policy: 54% have confidence in Bush to resolve the war in Iraq (30% great deal, 24% some), while 46% are not confident (24% very little, 22% not much) in the president. Hispanic Catholics are among the most likely to want the troops home (54%) and to lack confidence in the president on this issue (59% have "not much" or "very little" confidence).

Confidence in the president to resolve the war in Iraq overshadows all other predictors of the vote.

* 92% of those who say they have a "great deal" of confidence in Bush on this issue are intending to vote for him. …

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