EWTN/RealClear Poll: U.S. Catholics Open to Reelecting Trump

EWTN/RealClear Poll: U.S. Catholics Open to Reelecting Trump
AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana
EWTN/RealClear Poll: U.S. Catholics Open to Reelecting Trump
AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana
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An EWTN News/RealClear Opinion Research poll finds Catholics open to re-electing President Trump, disappointed in how their leaders have handled the clergy sexual abuse crisis, and divided between those who are active in the practice of the faith and those who are not.  

A little less than one year out from the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump faces a potentially grueling reelection campaign, while 53% of American Catholics plan to vote for him or are open to the possibility. That is just one finding in the first-ever EWTN News/RealClear survey that focuses on America’s Catholics.

“The importance of polling Catholics before an election, and in general, is to understand where those who self-identify as Catholics stand on important issues both inside the Church and those that impact the Church from outside,” noted Dan Burke, president and COO of EWTN News. “In the case of an election, when Catholics clearly express beliefs contrary to the faith, it is vital for Catholic leaders to understand and seek to better inform and form the hearts and minds of Catholics who will shape the future of our nation.”

The purpose of this polling effort is to better understand the mindset of self-identified Catholics and to assess and report on the implications of those views to the Church and the nation. Three more in-depth surveys will be undertaken in the coming year as part of EWTN’s Catholic engagement project to chart where American Catholics stand at the start of a new decade.

This survey found that there is an enormous gulf between the 58% of Catholics who accept all (17%) or most (41%) of the teachings of the Church and those who accept only some teachings or who say that the Church has little or no influence in their lives. The degree to which Catholics live their faith is a key determiner in how they respond to the issues of our time and how they vote.

That gulf is especially apparent where the question of the 2020 election is concerned.

Catholics have been a crucial voting bloc in every election of the last 60 years, and 2016 was no exception. The Donald Trump/Mike Pence ticket nearly split the Catholic vote with the Democratic ticket of Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine -- and Republicans will have a very difficult time regaining the White House without it.

This poll demonstrates the existing fault lines within the Catholic voting bloc. Young Catholic voters trend toward the Democrats while older Catholics vote more consistently Republican. This poll tends to confirm also the rising influence of Latinos on American Catholicism. Thirty-seven percent of Catholics in America are Latino, according to the findings, a significant segment because they trend 60% Democratic.

Beyond generational and ethnic considerations, the Catholic vote is also shaped by the differences between active or committed Catholics and those less influenced by the teachings of the Church.

Active Catholics consistently vote in elections and are by far among Trump’s most reliable supporters. Three years into his presidency, they give him a 53% job approval rating; moreover, 43% of active Catholics state that they are sure to vote for him in 2020. These strong numbers are a primary reason why 34% of all Catholics plan to vote again for the president, with another 19% saying there is a good chance he will have their vote or consider it possible.

Trump’s overall job approval among Catholics is at 44%, and he trails every Democrat contender a year out from the election. For those Catholics who plan to vote in the Democratic primaries, the race is tight, but two candidates seem to have captured their attention: Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, with 29% and 24% support, respectively. Both do well in a head-to-head matchup with Trump.

It is almost a year out from the election, of course, and any poll is a snapshot at the very start of a long campaign. One area at least of relatively common agreement is worry over the decline of religion in the country.

A solid majority of Americans – including Catholics – see a shrinking influence for religion and Christian values on American life, with 69% of registered voters (and 70% of Catholics) agreeing that people are becoming less tolerant of religion in the U.S. today. Meanwhile, 62% of all American Catholics believe that Christian values should play a more significant role in our society. Notably, only 43% of young Catholics agree about the role of Christian values.

Similar general agreement exists among majorities of American Catholics who are angered by the clergy sexual abuse crisis and its impact on the credibility of the Church’s leaders. Nearly two-thirds of American Catholics say that their trust in the leadership of the Catholic Church has been damaged by the clergy sex abuse crisis. This is seen also in the fact that 55% of all American Catholics disapprove of how the U.S. bishops have handled the abuse crisis. Pope Francis receives better marks, with 44% of American Catholics generally approving of how the pope has handled the situation, while 41% disapprove and 15% don’t know. These numbers underscore the immense pain and anger caused by the sex abuse crisis and the failures of many Church leaders to prevent it and deal with it effectively and transparently.

All of the findings about Catholics are of intense interest to political strategists and campaigns. For Catholics, these numbers are also deeply personal and reveal a troubling fissure between those who are active in the practice of the faith and those who are not. According to the findings, 39% of all Catholics go to Mass at least weekly; 49% of American Catholics believe in the Real Presence of the Eucharist; and only 6% of American Catholics go to confession at least once a month. Among the most active Catholics (those who accept all or most Church teachings), 93% pray at least once a week; 66% believe in the Real Presence; 56% attend Mass at least once a week; 52% go to confession at least once a year; and 51% pray the rosary at least once a month.

For the Catholics of America, the poll confirms what we have long suspected and even assumed. Catholicism has been battered by the winds of secularism, materialism, and relativism. Failures in catechesis and formation have created wide gaps in practice and belief that stretch now into every aspect of Catholic life.

Many will find the results of this poll disappointing and even disturbing when it comes to how many Catholics in the United States do not consider the faith to be important or even relevant to their lives. Others will see the results as confirmation that American Catholics have largely completed the journey begun in the 1950s and 1960s of becoming unrecognizable from their fellow citizens. There is still much more to learn in the coming polls over the next year, especially in understanding more about the active Catholics and the key issues of our time, including abortion, secularism, religious liberty, and the polarization of American politics and life.

This poll, however, provides a starting opportunity to understand where Catholics stand, what they are thinking, how they are living – or not living – the Catholic faith, and how that will shape their vote and participation in American elections. While much of the news is not good, there are many signs of hope in the findings. One of them is that for all of the justifiable concern over the decline of religious and particularly Christian values among Americans, 84% of Americans and 86% of all Catholics still consider religion important in their own lives. That is a helpful reminder that we remain one nation under God even if we seem at times today far from indivisible.  

The poll was conducted with registered voters 18 years of age and older residing in the United States. Respondents were contacted online (English and Spanish) Nov. 15-21, 2019. The sampling size was 2,055, including an oversample of 1,223 Catholic voters. It has a credibility interval of plus or minus 2.38 percentage points for registered voters and for Catholic voters, it is plus or minus 2.66 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Matthew Bunson is the executive editor of EWTN News and a senior fellow at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology.

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