Thursday, October 30, 2008

Zogby Poll: Catholics Not One-Issue Voters

A recent Zogby Poll shows that most Catholic Americans are not concerned solely with the abortion issue although, if you were to look through media reports, you'd be misled into thinking it was so. What surprised me about the poll results was that, out of only 22% of Catholics who believe abortion should never be permitted, 43% of that group would be willing to vote for a candidate who disagrees with them.

It's disappointing for me, personally, to understand that a majority of Catholics fail to grasp the meaning of the Church's social justice teaching. Only 38% of my fellow Catholics go beyond what I believe is primarily self-interest in order to support governmental policies that would take the poorest of us into consideration. Whether or not Democratic progressives want to hear the truth, the "Joe the Plumber" attitude toward economic policy seems to prevail in the minds of a majority of Catholic swing-voters.

I suppose these poll numbers prove that many Catholics believe, especially in these hard times, that it isn't the "American way" to care so much about the poor in our society and to care/understand enough about faith-based social justice that they will vocally support US government anti-poverty programs.

As someone who supported the anti-poverty platform of John Edwards, who was criticised by many in the American press once he'd put the issue front-and-center in his Presidential campaign, I'm beginning to see what an uphill battle he was fighting.

Another major disappointment for me is seeing that 54% of my fellow Catholics [who attend services at least once each week] are still selfish [in my way of thinking] when it comes to narrowly defining marriage as man-woman only. Then there are the 59% who, in my opinion, are still in the dark ages when it comes to end-of-life issues and say that one who believes that euthanasia should be a legal end-of-life option is a "bad Catholic." Anyone who's seen a loved one suffering with a cancer that has taken its final toll after a long, courageous battle might understand how, years from now, we'll be looking back and asking this about the way we treated end-of-life issues, "What were they thinking?"

Interestingly, the less these Catholics who were polled attended services, the more they leaned toward pro-social justice issues. It causes me to wonder what is missing in the Mass today that would cause so many to feel the way they do about certain political issues.

Love, justice, and mercy were not created by religion, but I've always personally believed that my faith teachings led me to understand the fullness of love, justice, and mercy.

When it comes to the poor and to the suffering, it's quite sobering for me, with my committed hope for finding and supporting political, private, and non-profit solutions to end poverty and suffering at home and around the globe, to realize how few of my fellow Catholics seem to take these teachings to their hearts. I see this as a major opportunity for change in an ever-increasingly interdependent world.

Syracuse, NY - Catholics have been identified by many analysts as a key "swing vote" in the 2008 presidential election. As the candidates spend the final week of the campaign focused on encouraging turnout, the Le Moyne College/Zogby International Contemporary Catholic Trends (CCT) project polled a sample of U.S. Catholics to find out what motivates their voting decisions.

The prevalence of news stories about the Catholic vote and abortion suggests that this issue trumps all others for Catholics. The latest Le Moyne/Zogby CCT poll does not support this perception, as 29% of Catholics say they would be unlikely to vote for a candidate who disagrees with them on abortion rights, but with whom they agreed "on all issues except for abortion." [..]

Asked about personal abortion attitudes, 22% of respondents say abortion should never be permitted, and of this group 57% say they would be unlikely to vote for a candidate who disagrees with them. 18% of Catholics say abortion should be allowed "as a matter of personal choice," and of these Catholics 21% say they would be unlikely to vote for a candidate who disagrees with them. According to Dr. Matt Loveland, Le Moyne sociologist and CCT Principal Investigator, "In essence, less than a third of Catholic voters appear to vote solely on abortion attitudes, but those who do tend to favor 'pro-life' candidates. Abortion attitudes point to important identity issues for some Catholics. Some would say a 'real' Catholic could never vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights." Addressing this question, the poll found that 44% of Catholics believe "a good Catholic" could not vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights, but that 53% say a good Catholic could.

What other issues matter to Catholics?

A key Catholic social teaching is the Preferential Option for the Poor, which holds that a just society is one that privileges the poor over those who are better off economically. U.S. politicians, however, take pains to demonstrate their concern for the 'middle class.' How well do these potentially competing positions play with American Catholics? In the October Le Moyne/Zogby CCT survey, 38% of Catholics agree, somewhat or strongly, that government policies should privilege the interests of the poorest Americans over those in the middle and upper classes, but 4% are undecided and 58% disagree. "Church teaching on this issue seems to run counter to recent popular sentiment against 'spreading the wealth,' but it looks like many lay Catholics agree with 'Joe the Plumber' on this issue," said Dr. Loveland.

The poll also covered other issues about which the U.S. Bishops have written, asking about them in the context of what it means to be "a good Catholic." Majorities agree that good Catholics can vote for candidates who support embryonic stem cell research (60%), the death penalty (55%), and can vote for a divorced candidate (77%). On the other hand, majorities say that good Catholics should not vote for candidates who support same-sex marriage (54%), euthanasia (59%), and human cloning (76%). Interestingly, those who attend Mass at least weekly differ from those who attend less frequently on each of these issues - they are less likely to agree that "good Catholics" can vote for such candidates.