U.S. Catholic views documented in Knights survey

By  Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service
  • October 17, 2008
{mosimage}WASHINGTON - American Catholic voters in 2008 tend to be more moderate and less liberal than U.S. voters as a whole, according to a survey commissioned by the Knights of Columbus and released Oct. 14.

“A plurality of Catholic voters, 39 per cent, are Democrats, and 45 per cent describe themselves as moderate. Only 19 per cent say they are liberal,” the survey said.
The survey was conducted by telephone with 813 self-identified Catholics Sept. 24-Oct. 3 by Marist College’s Institute for Public Opinion. Those who identified themselves as practising Catholics outnumbered non-practising Catholics by close to a 2-1 ratio.

On the subject of abortion, 48 per cent of all Catholics surveyed said they were “pro-life,” while 47 per cent said they were “pro-choice,” and five per cent were unsure. However, twice as many practising as non-practising Catholics — 59 per cent to 29 per cent — called themselves “pro-life,” while 65 per cent of non-practising Catholics said they were “pro-choice” compared to 36 per cent of practising Catholics.

While more than 90 per cent of all Catholics polled said they favoured restrictions on abortion, there was less consensus on what kind of restriction should be put in place. A plurality of 35 per cent said they would allow abortion only in cases of rape, incest or to save the mother’s life. The survey also found that 26 per cent of all Catholics would permit abortion in the first three months of pregnancy, although 17 per cent said abortion should never be permitted and 11 per cent would allow it only to save the life of the mother.

The poll found that 55 per cent of Catholics say they would “definitely” vote for a candidate who believes that life begins at conception, while 20 per cent said they would vote for such a candidate although with some reservations, and 19 per cent said they would “definitely not” vote for such a candidate.

A plurality of registered Catholic voters, 36 per cent, said homosexual couples should be able to form civil unions. The remaining 64 per cent were split evenly — 32 per cent to 32 per cent — on gay couples being able to legally marry or such couples getting no legal recognition.

Nearly half of all Catholic voters, 49 per cent, said they would “definitely” vote for a candidate who defined marriage as being between one man and one woman, yet 45 per cent would “definitely” vote for a candidate who supports civil unions for any two adults who want to live together.

The economy was considered the top issue by 59 per cent of registered Catholic voters. No other issue reached double digits: nine per cent said the war in Iraq was the top issue; six per cent each, government spending and health care; five per cent, terrorism; three per cent, immigration; and two per cent, jobs. Twelve per cent of those surveyed mentioned other issues.

A significant majority of Catholics, 73 per cent, said they believed the United States was headed in the wrong direction; only 21 per cent said they thought it was headed in the right direction, and six per cent said they were not sure. By a similar margin, 72 per cent said they were mostly discouraged about the direction of the country and 23 per cent said they were mostly encouraged; five per cent were unsure.

In terms of party identification, 39 per cent of the Catholics polled said they were Democrats, 30 per cent said they were Republicans and 29 per cent were Independents. When it comes to ideology, 45 per cent identified themselves as moderate, 36 per cent as conservative and 19 per cent as liberal — although 26 per cent of the registered non-practising Catholics called themselves liberal, seven percentage points above the figure for all Catholics, and 29 per cent of the non-practising registered Catholic voters described themselves as conservative, seven percentage points lower than the overall Catholic figure.

The Knights calculated that 65 per cent of Catholics worship “regularly,” with the breakdown as follows: more than once a week, eight per cent; once a week, 36 per cent; and once or twice a month, 21 per cent.

The survey had a margin of error ranging from plus or minus 2.5 percentage points for all Americans surveyed up to plus or minus 6.5 percentage points for registered non-practising Catholic voters.

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