EWTN News / RealClear Opinion Research Poll #3 Finds Catholics and Their Priorities Deeply Affected by Pandemic
In our latest poll, Catholics weigh in about of the impact of the coronavirus, drawing closer to God in the pandemic, attacks on churches, abortion and more.

With the U.S. presidential election now only weeks away, the latest EWTN News/RealClear Opinion Research poll on Catholic priorities in the 2020 election finds that Catholics who are likely voters say they have been profoundly impacted by the pandemic, and that the issues of greatest concern are the economy and jobs, healthcare and Coronavirus. The vast majority of Catholic likely voters are also concerned about recent anti-religious actions and violence including Church desecrations and bible burnings. The poll, which is the third of four surveys conducted since November 2019, revealed that most Catholics have been distressed at being unable to attend Mass during the pandemic, with most also saying that it is now safe to return to Church.

In terms of the presidential election, the poll – taken before the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg – found that Catholic likely voters overall prefer former Vice President Joe Biden to President Donald Trump. Biden has led Trump among overall Catholic voters in each of the previous EWTN News/Real Clear polls. Trump also continues to enjoy majority support from Catholics in certain subgroups such as those who set aside time to pray each day or attend Mass more than once a week.

“The most observant Roman Catholics still tend to support Donald Trump and the Republican Party, as do large majorities of white evangelical Protestants – and are among the most highly motivated voters,” said RealClearPolitics Washington bureau chief Carl M. Cannon. “But the question for the GOP is whether there are enough of these voters to make up the difference.”

Cannon also said that the latest survey reveals how the triple crucibles of coronavirus pandemic, the ensuing lockdown, and social unrest have crowded out other issues ranging from immigration to foreign policy. “Almost everything -- education policy, the economy, religious freedom – is being viewed through the prism of these crises,” Cannon added. “This is the election story of 2020.”

They are not a monolithic group. More than half (52%) are women, nearly half (48%) are under the age of 45, including nearly a third under the age of 35, and even more remarkable, 41% are Hispanic. Some 72% attend Mass on a weekly basis or more; overall, only 35% of all Catholics attend Mass at least once a week. Among these devout Catholics, 92% pray at least weekly, 77% set aside time to pray, and 62% say the rosary at least once a week compared to 27% among all Catholics. And 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.

Issues of Concern

While a number of consensus issues emerged among Catholics including on a preference for substantial abortion restrictions, and attacks on Catholic churches and statues, views within the Catholic community often range widely – depending on factors including frequency of Mass attendance, prayer practices, age, region of country and ethnicity.

More than nine in 10 Catholic likely voters (91%) say they are concerned about the economy and jobs (70% a major concern, 21% a concern but not top of mind). Healthcare is a concern to nearly nine in 10 (89%), a major concern for 66% and a concern for 23%. Coronavirus too was similarly a priority (88%) with 73% calling it a major concern, and 15% a concern.

Catholics were also very concerned about anti-Catholic/anti-religious violence. By a seven to one margin (83% to 12%), the overwhelming majority of Catholic likely voters expressed concern about vandalism and attacks on churches. More than three-quarters of Catholics (78%) and an even greater number of those who attend Mass at least weekly (83%) expressed concern about the anti-Christian elements of the recent protests, only 11% disagreed.

And by more than three to one (74% to 21%), most said they were concerned about attacks on statues of Catholic heroes including Christopher Columbus and St. Junipero Serra. By a similar margin (74% to 19%) respondents expressed concern both about protestors burning bibles in Portland, Ore. and about calls to tear down statues and artwork depicting Jesus as a “white European.”

Three-quarters or more respondents were also concerned about: national security (85%), civil unrest (84%), criminal justice (82%), taxes (80%), race relations (77%), immigration (76%), and foreign policy (75%). Other issues of concern to a majority of Catholics included the Supreme Court (68%), religious liberty (60%), abortion (59%).

By more than two to one (53% to 19%), a majority of respondents said that Catholics should do more to heal the racial divisions in America. That number grew to almost two-thirds of those attending Mass at least weekly (65%) with only 17% disagreeing.

At the same time, a majority of Catholics (59%-34%) are opposed to calls for the defunding of police, and a large majority of Catholics (81%) have a degree of trust in their local police departments to protect and serve them and their families, with 51% saying they trust them “a lot” and 30% saying “a little.” Less than two in 10 (18%) said “not much” or “not at all.”

In addition, the survey found that 76% of Catholics support substantial restrictions on abortion. This includes 82% of Catholics who go to Mass weekly. Three in 10 Catholics also said they were less likely to support a candidate who favored abortion, while 22% said they were more likely to do so, and a third (33%) said it made no difference. Among those who go to Mass at least weekly, a plurality (43%) said they were less likely to support such a candidate, while about half that number (23%) said they were more likely to do so and 22% said it made no difference.

COVID

Uniquely in this poll, COVID emerged not only as general issue of concern for Catholics, but one with religious implications. Most survey respondents said they felt it was now safe to return to Mass (58%), while about four in 10 (42%) said they felt it was unsafe. Catholics who attended Mass weekly or more prior to the pandemic, felt it was safe to return to Mass by almost 30 percentage points (64% to 36%).

More than seven in 10 Catholics (71%) said they found it was distressing to be unable to attend Mass during the pandemic. That grew to 80% among Catholics that go to Mass weekly or more. And more than half (52%) of all respondents said they are likely to attend Mass more frequently after the pandemic, only about one in 10 (13%) said they intended to go to Mass less frequently.

Catholics likely voters also found the COVID pandemic to be a thought-provoking experience. More than six in 10 respondents said that the pandemic made them think differently about their faith (61%), 81% percent said it had made them think differently about politics, and 92% said it had made them think differently about their health. In addition, 79% said the pandemic made them feel closer to God, and 93% said it made them feel closer to their families.

When it came to the response of “your bishop” to the pandemic, a plurality did not know whether that response was good or bad (40%), an additional 39% said the response was good and 21% said “not so good.” The numbers for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on this question were almost the same: 40% unsure, 38% good, and 22% not so good.

A majority of respondents gave President Trump poor marks for his handling of the pandemic (57%), with 42% disagreeing.

Speaking of the wide impact of Coronavirus on the election, John Della Volpe, Director of Polling for the Harvard University Institute of Politics who oversaw the polling for RealClear Opinion Research, said, “The issue lens that Catholics are using to choose a president has changed significantly since our first poll in November 2019. Coronavirus, the economy, and health care are the primary concerns of Catholic voters as we enter the fall; meanwhile the importance of immigration has dropped by double-digits. Concerns related to religious freedom, abortion, and the Supreme Court rank as less important factors for most Catholic voters at this late state of the campaign.”

Election

In terms of the November election, Joe Biden holds a substantial 12-point lead over Donald Trump among likely voters who identify as Catholic (53% to 41%). By contrast, the poll found that respondents voted for Hillary Clinton by a five-point margin (50% to 45%) in 2016.

Interestingly, the frequency of Mass attendance correlates closely with which major candidate a Catholic supports. Catholics who attend Mass daily support Trump by 16 percentage points (58% to 42%). Catholics who attend Mass more than once a week supported Trump by 24 percentage points (61% to 37%). By contrast, Catholics who attend Mass less than once a year support Biden by a margin of 59% to 36%, and those who never attend Mass support Biden by a margin of 69% to 25%.

Those who set aside time to pray each day break narrowly for Trump (48% to 47%), while those who do not set such time each day overwhelmingly support Biden (55% to 37%).

And while Hispanics who identify as Catholics overall support Biden by a margin of more than two to one (63% to 31%), among those who go to Mass at least weekly, more than four in 10 support Trump (43%), while Biden gets support from 54%.

The poll was taken before the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. EWTN News will be releasing its fourth poll assessing the Catholic vote and reflecting these latest developments in the coming weeks.

Note on Methodology

From August 27 to September 1, RealClear Opinion Research conducted a poll of Catholics who are registered and say they plan to “definitely” vote in the November election in the United States. We contacted respondents online and offered the survey in both English and Spanish. The sample size of Likely Voters was N=1,212 with a credibility interval of +/- 3.01% at the 95% confidence level. This survey is the third that we have conducted, following surveys conducted in February of this year and in November of 2019.

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