A new survey released by the Pew Research Center has revealed that the majority of Catholics are satisfied with the leadership of their parish priest, their local bishop and the American bishops in general.
The survey also found that “Catholics who are aware of U.S. bishops’ concerns about restrictions on religious liberty generally agree with the bishops’ concerns.”
Released on August 1, the Pew poll of American Catholics indicated that 64 percent have heard about the bishops’ objections to several recent government policies.
Chief among the bishops’ concerns is a federal mandate that will require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and early-abortion inducing drugs even if doing so violates their consciences.
The bishops have also spoken out against other policies that threaten families, marriage and unborn life, as well as regulations that could harm immigrants in the U.S.
Among Catholics who are aware of the bishops’ objections, the majority “say they agree with the bishops’ concerns,” the survey said.
Fifty-six percent of those polled said they share the bishops’ worries, while 36 percent said that they do not.
Among Democrats, Republicans and independents, “there is more support for the bishops from Catholics than from the general public,” the study found.
In addition, the survey revealed that a large majority of Catholics are satisfied “with the leadership of the bishops and other church officials.”
Seventy-four percent of respondents were satisfied with the pope and their local bishop, while over 80 percent voiced satisfaction with their own parish priest and Catholic nuns and sisters. Additionally, 70 percent were satisfied with the “American bishops in general.”
These numbers have risen sharply since 2002, which was “during the height of the church’s child sex abuse scandal,” the study said.
However, polls still consistently show Catholics as being split in their preferences for presidential candidate in the upcoming election. So far, neither Democratic candidate Barack Obama nor Republican candidate Mitt Romney has secured a consistent lead among the Catholic electorate.
The influence of the Catholic vote on the 2012 election has become a matter of significant speculation in recent months.
With an estimated 55.6 million Catholics in the 2012 voting age population, the demographic could prove to be significant in deciding the upcoming race.
In a June article in Our Sunday Visitor, analysts Mark Gray and Melissa Cidade predicted that the Church may have a greater influence in this election than it has in the recent past.
Gray and Cidade, research associates at Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, explained that “winning a majority of the ‘vote of Catholics’ has always been important.”
They discussed the Catholic voting bloc that formed in the early 1960s, boosting both John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson to victory.
Since then, they said, Catholics have fallen in the middle of evangelical Christians, who tend to lean Republican, and those with no religious affiliation, who often vote for Democrats.
Catholic voices are now being heard loudly in the public square, they noted, as the bishops and other groups have spoken out against growing threats to religious freedom.
Gray and Cidade pointed to polls by both Pew and Rasmussen indicating that the majority of Catholics object to religious employers being forced to cover contraceptives against their beliefs.
They observed that there is “no evidence of a JFK-like bloc forming yet,” but added that the distribution of Catholics in battleground states still makes them an important group.
While they acknowledged that the race is still close, they concluded that the 2012 election “is sure to include Catholicism in ways we have not seen in recent years.”