Research Impacts - Polls

Catholic Vote Up for Grabs

Release Date: 6/26/2008
 
By Seth Brohinsky and Mark Schulman, Abt SRBI

John McCain holds a wide 11-point lead over Barack Obama, 42% to 31%, with 26% undecided among likely Catholic voters, according to the latest national Time Magazine Poll, conducted June 18 – 25.

However, when “leaners” are included, John McCain and Barack Obama are in a virtual tie, with McCain narrowly in front, 45% to 44%, with 10% undecided.


And what if the candidates in the November election were Barack Obama and John McCain
And you had to choose, for which of these candidates would you vote?

Base: Catholic Registered likely voters

 

Firm Support (%)

"Leaning Support" (%) (Base: Undecided / Unsure Catholic registered likely voters)

Total Support Including"Leaners" (%)

Barack Obama

31

49

44

John McCain

42

11

45

Other Candidate

1

-

1

Undecided/Don’t know

26

38

10


Background to Catholic Vote

The Catholic vote, traditionally a mainstay of the Democratic party, has been fickle in recent elections. Gore held a slim 3-point margin over Bush among Catholics in 2000, according the NEP exit polls. Kerry lost the Catholic vote to Bush in 2004 by 5 points, 52% - 47%.

During the 2008 Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton was the clear vote choice over Obama in the exit polls. The tilt of leaners toward Obama may indicate that many Catholic voters may be taking a second look at Obama, but are not yet firm in their choice.

Candidates Underperforming Among Key Catholic Constituencies

The Catholic vote may be viewed in several ways – all Catholics, white Catholics and Hispanic Catholics, mass-going Catholics versus non-observant Catholics.

McCain faces a challenge with White Catholics, where he holds a slim 47% to 42% lead over Obama-- a constituency Bush carried by 13 percentage points in 2004, according to the NEP exit polls.

Obama faces his own challenges: he is currently trailing McCain among Hispanic Catholics by 4 percentage points, perhaps a reflection of the lingering scars from the Democratic Primary. Hillary Clinton captured much of the Hispanic vote in the primaries. Hispanic Catholics supported Kerry over Bush by 19 percentage points in 2004, according to NEP exit polls.


And what if the candidates in the November election were Barack Obama and John McCain
And you had to choose, for which of these candidates would you vote?

Base: Catholic Registered likely voters

 

 

 

 

Total Support Including "Leaners" (%)

White Catholics (%)

Hispanic Catholics (%)

Barack Obama

44

42

37

John McCain

45

47

41

Other Candidate

1

1

2

Undecided/Don’t know

10

10

21


Contrasting Candidate Strengths

The three most important issues to Catholics (and all voters) in this year’s Presidential election are the nation’s economy (63% extremely important), terrorism (59%), and the situation in Iraq (57%). McCain tops Obama in two of these areas:

  • Best protect the U.S. from terrorism: McCain over Obama, 53% - 31%
  • Best handle the situation in Iraq: McCain over Obama, 47% - 42%

Obama’s strengths over McCain among Catholics hinge on his likeability and his edge on handling the economy, the number one issue right now.

  • Most likeable: Obama tops McCain, 67% - 20%.
  • Best understands concerns of people like myself: Obama beats McCain, 51% - 30%.
  • Best able to handle the economy, Obama over McCain by a slim 42% - 36%.

Base: Catholic Registered likely voters

Best understands the concerns of people like myself

51

30

5

Best be able to handle the economy

42

36

8

Will take on special interests in Washington

38

34

9

Is most comfortable talking about his religious beliefs

35

45

15


“Values Issues”

Catholic voters’ opinions on “values issues” differ significantly depending on how often they attend religious service. Catholics are split on these issues.

  • Abortion: Only 18% of Catholics overall would ban abortion under any circumstances. However, 37% of those who attend religious services at least once a week, say abortion should be illegal in all circumstances. By contrast, just 4% of those who attend services less regularly agree.

Which of these positions best represents your views about abortion

Base: Catholic Registered likely voters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total Catholic (%)

Total Non-Catholic (Base: Non-Catholic Registered likely voters) (%)

Attend Church More than Once per Week (%)

Attend Church Once a Month to a Few Times a Year (%)

Attend Church Seldom or Never (%)

White Catholic (%)

Hispanic Catholic (%)

A woman should be able to get an abortion if she wants one in the first three months of pregnancy, no matter what the reason.

38

45

19

52

53

36

51

Abortion should be legal only in certain circumstances, such as when a woman's health is endangered or when the pregnancy results from rape or incest

41

39

40

42

39

40

43

Abortion should be illegal in all circumstances even if the mother's life is in danger

18

11

37

4

3

20

1

Not Sure / Don’t Know

3

5

4

3

5

3

5


  • Gay Marriage: Half of Catholics (50%) believe that gay couples should not be allowed to marry, while 43% say they should be allowed. Almost 7 in 10 (69%) Catholics who attend religious service at least once a week feel gay marriage should not be allowed. A majority (56%) of those who attend religious service less regularly feel same-sex marriages should be permitted.

Should gay and lesbian couples be allowed to marry, giving them full legal rights of married couples, or not?

Base: Catholic Registered likely voters

 

Total Catholic (%)

Total Non-Catholic (Base: Non-Catholic Registered likely voters) (%)

Attend Church More than Once per Week (%)

Attend Church Once a Month to a Few Times a Year (%)

Attend Church Seldom or Never (%)

White Catholic (%)

Hispanic Catholic (%)

Should be allowed

43

39

25

56

69

42

56

Should not

50

54

69

38

18

52

41

Not Sure / Don’t Know

6

7

6

5

13

6

2


  • Stem Cell Research: Three in five Catholics (62%) favor stem cell research with discarded fetuses. Nearly half (49%) of those who attend church weekly oppose stem cell research; compared to three-quarters (74%) who attend church less often favor it.

Do you favor or oppose using discarded embryos to conduct stem cell research to try to find cures for diseases I mentioned?

Base: Catholic Registered likely voters

 

Total Catholic (%)

Total Non-Catholic (Base: Non-Catholic Registered likely voters) (%)

Attend Church More than Once per Week (%)

Attend Church Once a Month to a Few Times a Year (%)

Attend Church Seldom or Never (%)

White Catholic (%)

Hispanic Catholic (%)

Favor

62

74

46

74

84

60

68

Oppose

29

18

49

15

6

32

13

Not Sure / Don’t Know

9

9

4

12

10

8

19


Single Issue Constituency?

Only about 1 in 5 Catholic voters would not vote for a candidate solely on his position on abortion (16%) or gay marriage (18%). Views are more hardened on Iraq, where 24% would not vote for a candidate soley on his position on Iraq.

  • One-in-five (20%) of weekly church-goers would not vote for a candidate who favored gay marriage.
  • 22% of those who attend church weekly would not vote for a candidate who supported abortion rights.

What if a Presidential candidate took a position on the following issue that was different from your own, would you still
Consider voting for him because of his position on other issues, or would you not vote for him under any circumstances?

Base: Catholic Registered likely voters

 

 Still Consider Voting for Him

(%)

Would Not Vote for Him Under Any Circumstances (%)

No Answer / Don't Know

Abortion

80

16

4

Gay Marriage

79

18

3

U.S. Policy Toward Iraq

71

24

5


Limited Impact If Communion Refused

Pundits in 2004 speculated about the impact of vows by several Bishops to deny communion to candidates, including John Kerry, who support abortion rights. The Time poll finds that only 7% of Catholics would “definitely” (4%) or probably (3%) vote against a Catholic candidate who was refused communion by his or her Bishop for taking a stance against the Church’s belief. This margin might have an impact in a tight race.

Pope Has High Favorability Ratings

More than eight in ten Catholics (86%) give Pope Benedict XVI a favorable job rating. About 1 in 3 (34%) give him a “very favorable” job rating, while 52% rate him “somewhat favorable.” Only 6% offer the Pope an unfavorable rating.

Methodology

This Time Magazine poll was conducted by telephone June 18 – 25, 2008 among a national random sample of 600 Catholic likely voters, age 18 and older throughout America. Catholics were identified both in a fresh cross-section sample and in other previous Time random-digit dial samples.

The margin of error for the entire sample is approximately +/- 4 percentage points. The margin of error is higher for subgroups. Surveys are subject to other error sources as well, including sampling coverage error, recording error, and respondent error.

Abt SRBI Public Affairs designed the survey and conducted all interviewing.  Contact Mark Schulman, 212-779-7700.

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