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Whither the Catholic Vote: a New Poll

A visitor prays during mass at a Roman Catholic Church in Knock, Ireland, 2010. (Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)

The results are back. In late January and early February, EWTN (the Catholic cable network) and RealClear Opinion Research conducted a survey of 1,521 registered Catholic voters to assess their views on the forthcoming presidential elections, some hot issues and trends, and even stances on traditional religious beliefs. Its findings largely confirm a late 2019 EWTN poll showing that voting preferences (Trump versus a Democratic presidential candidate) track the intensity of adherence to Church teaching.

In the new poll, 54 percent of Catholic voters said they are open to voting for President Donald Trump in November, which includes 34 percent who declare that they will definitely back the incumbent. Trump’s biggest support among Catholics comes from the devout: 67 percent say they are sure to vote for him or are open to it. That also describes the position of 52 percent of devout Hispanic Catholics.

In that devout subgroup, 58 percent contend that the country is better off financially than four years ago. Also, 77 percent of devout Hispanic Catholics claim they are personally better off financially than four years ago.

President Trump’s approval rating among Catholics is 47 percent (63 percent among devout Catholics), an increase of three points since November 2019. But Trump trails in all head-to-head matchups against Democratic candidates, by as much as 11 percent (vs. Biden, 51-40) and as little as four percent (vs. Buttigieg, 44-40).

Of Catholics voting in the Democratic primaries and caucuses, Joe Biden had the highest level of support, with 29 percent, but the Catholic former vice president was closely followed by Bernie Sanders at 24 percent. Michael Bloomberg (17 percent) and Elizabeth Warren (10 percent) were the only other candidates who registered in double digits.

The poll’s findings expose a widening gap among Catholics based on devotion. From the EWTN analysis: “When it comes to foundational Church teaching, the active or devout Catholics are increasingly at odds with their fellow Catholics, to the point that there are virtually two Catholic communities in the country. This is obvious in the 2020 presidential election.”

The fracture transcends partisan leanings. More from the EWTN analysis:

The divide that exists among Catholics is also not limited to politics. It is deep and wide on a host of issues related to Church teaching and culture.

The poll found that Catholics are split when it comes to many of the most urgent social issues such as whether Christian owners of wedding-related businesses should have the right to not provide services for a same sex wedding or that the Catholic Church should not be required to allow individuals who do not follow the teachings of the Church to work in parochial schools.

There are, however, areas of common agreement among all Catholics. One is the concern over the question of gender identity and the use of bathrooms, changing rooms, and locker rooms. A majority of all Catholics (55 percent) believe that these facilities should be based on biological sex at birth and not gender identity, whereas 30 percent believed that it should be based on gender identity, not based on biological sex at birth.

The poll also found 57 percent of Catholics want more faith-friendly programming coming out of the entertainment industry.

Asked about whether certain actions were “intrinsically evil,” Catholic voters favored “Not” in the cases of abortion (53 percent), euthanasia (55 percent), and physician-assisted suicide (59 percent).

Some 81 percent of Catholic voters believe in Hell, two percent more than those who believed in the existence of the Devil.

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