Survey: Catholics divided on political issues, as adherent numbers decline
The divide between social justice Catholics and social issues Catholics became most evident during this years debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan.
October 22nd, 2012
05:44 PM ET

Survey: Catholics divided on political issues, as adherent numbers decline

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – As important as the Catholic vote is in the 2012 election, a new survey finds that the group is far from monolithic and is not largely focused on the issues that get a lot of attention from church leaders – abortion and gay marriage.

Among the Catholics surveyed by the Public Religious Research Institute, 60% believe the Church should focus more on social justice issues and their obligation to the poor, even if it means focusing less on social issues like abortion and right to life.

Thirty-one percent say the opposite – they favor social issues over social justice issues.

Even among Catholics who attend church weekly or more, 51% say the Church should stress social justice issues over strictly social issues. Thirty-six percent said the opposite.

“The survey confirms that there is no such thing as ‘the Catholic vote’,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of the polling group. “There are a number of critical divisions among Catholics, including an important divide between ‘social justice’ and ‘right to life’ Catholics.”

When looking at the 2012 elections, these Catholic divisions continue to be apparent.

Among those Catholics who support more “social justice” teachings, 60% support Obama while 37% support Romney. Likewise, 67% of “right to life” Catholics support Romney while 27% support the president.

Overall, Catholics slightly favor Romney over Obama, with 49% supporting the Republican challenger and 47% supporting the president.

Catholics top issues are also largely in line with Americans as a whole: 61% of Americans say the economy is the top issue in this election, followed by health care, national security, abortion and immigration. “There are few differences by religious affiliation in terms of voters’ issue priorities,” reads the report.

Catholicism has been a topic of political conversation lately, primarily because both Vice President Joe Biden and GOP vice presidential contender Rep. Paul Ryan are members of the faith. Two weeks ago, Biden and Ryan debated on the national stage – the first time two Catholics had ever debated each other in a presidential election.

The divide between social justice Catholics and social issues Catholics became further evident during the debate, when moderator Martha Raddatz asked a question about how their shared faith plays into the candidates different views on abortion.

“I don't see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith. Our faith informs us in everything we do,” Ryan said. “I believe that life begins at conception.”

“I've been a practicing Catholic my whole life. And it has particularly informed my social doctrine. Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those who can't take care of themselves, people who need help,” Biden said. “Life begins at conception. That's the church's judgment. I accept it in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews.”

But even as two Catholics vie for political power on the national stage, the number of Catholics, the survey finds, is shrinking.

Although nearly one-third of Americans were raised Catholic, 22% currently identify with Catholicism. As has been shown in previous surveys, the number of former Catholics remains substantial at 12%.

The religiously unaffiliated seems to be the benefactors of this decline – their numbers continue to rise, especially compared to the small number of Americans who were raised religiously unaffiliated. Seven percent of survey respondents were raised in an unaffiliated family, but today 19% identify as religiously unaffiliated.

Their reasons for the religious departures are varied.

Twenty-three percent cited rejection of their childhood faith, 16% cited overall antipathy toward organized religion and 11% cited negative personal experiences with religion as their reasons for leaving.

Five percent of overall respondents cited the Catholic Church’s child sex abuse scandal – the entirety of that group was made up of former Catholics.

The PRRI survey was done in partnership with the Brookings Institution and was made up of 3,003 adults, contacted by phone, in the United States. The survey was conducted between September 13, 2012 and September 30, 2012 and has a margin of error of 2%.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: 2012 Election • Abortion • Barack Obama • Catholic Church • Mitt Romney • Politics • Polls

soundoff (451 Responses)
  1. pastmorm

    So, the past few months, I've been really concerned about a mormon in the White House because of my background with the mormon church (7th generation...ancestor even mentioned in the D&C) and how horrible I know it to truly be.

    No more of CNN (which obviously supported Romnesia, the big hairy ape). No more fighting with a bunch of mormon propagandists. All that matters is that not only did creepy conservatrolls LOSE last night, but the mormon church lost the money it donated to stop gay marriage in Maryland and Maine. LOL! ON top of that, how many members are going to be questioning their religion now? After all that fasting and prayer, surely God would have seen the light and created a win for Romney, the chosen of the mormons and God himself. LOL! NOT!
    So, no more of these boards. And NO more of cnn. In 4 years mormonism will be a skeleton of what it was. All of the things that have come out about it's REAL temple beliefs and godhood, etc, will hit Americans and they will put it up there with the likes of David Koresh. Younger generations are already leaving the church (I've been able to help 7 out of 13 of my nieces and nephews see the light of freedom) and as technology takes over, even more will leave behind the dinosaur led by a bunch of smelly, old, pathetic men, that is the mormon church. BYE LOSERS!!!!!

    November 7, 2012 at 9:38 am |
  2. WillieLove


    November 6, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
  3. WillieLove


    November 6, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
  4. WillieLove


    November 6, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
  5. GMarius

    Hey Christians! Be Warned! You have been wallowing in ignorance for all of your existence! But there is a new way to understand the world, a new faith calling you to enlightenment! It's called science! It's not like religion at all! It doesn't explain all of existence – only silly religions do that! It doesn't have rigid laws and doctrines that are constantly being disputed by varying sects- once again only a religion thing! Our leaders and founders aren't worshiped or venerated or held in any kind of esteem – what kind of enlightened fellow would do that? Science also is very tolerant and accommodating of other faiths, we are not mean spirited or jerks to any other faith or narrow minded anything. Also, we haven't killed anybody in the m=name of our faith-yet. So come join the "free" thinkers of science who aren't at all like adherents of established religion!

    November 1, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • GMarius

      Sorry for the misspellings/ missing words. Please don't assume I'm illiterate (or in earnest) when I write!

      November 1, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  6. CoAvs

    I had very interesting conversation with my brother a die by church political position holder. He could not shut about outlawing abortion even through I provided evidence that it would only increase the number of abortions. He holds the position so hardly on abortion that he said that is the only issue he will vote on. I also brought up the fact that abortion will never be outlawed by the right because it brings in too many votes. By contrast I look at variety of social issues instead of just yelling about abortion. I brought up the number of children under the age of five who die from preventable causes. He said that the church and the world does enough about extreme poverty but not about abortion.

    I asked if abortion is ever acceptable my brother said no. I replied with how about when a mother (who has other children) requires medical care that will require the fetus to be aborted as a situation. My brother said they said the mother should die before the fetus and if we do abort the baby we are "playing God."

    My brother demonstrates the effectives of the Catholic Church's propaganda when it comes to social issues. My brother has a home in the ever increasing reactionary Catholic Church but I have lost mine. I care about more than just fetuses and that position is seen as wrong within the Catholic Church. The younger generation that I am a part of could be very big for the Church if they only loosened their grip on social issues, became more liberal, and open. Instead the Catholic church has become an old boys club who care way too much about uteri. If the current trajectory of the Catholic Church continues there will be no one left besides people who live in the 18th century with the desire to have it forced into government.

    October 30, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • GMarius

      Mother Church has always been a lucrative, reactionary, old boys' club. The main difference between the Church of old and today's Church is that it doesn't kill very many people. I daresay all the changes the Church has made have been for the better.

      November 1, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  7. Bill

    You need to put a big sign in front of Joe Biden telling him which of the 57-states he is in. Can you imagine him with the nuclear football. He gets a message that a nuclear missile is in-bound from the Russian sympathizing part of the nation of Georgia, and "poof", there goes Atlanta.

    October 28, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  8. splassher6

    'SPECIAL REPORT' INVESTIGATES BENGHAZI — NEW REVELATIONS. Watch Sunday @ 3 and 10pm ET on FOX news, the number one news network in the USA. Sorry CNN, even you cannot stop the truth from coming out. Try real news for a change. Perhaps your viewers will appreciate it.

    October 28, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  9. Shirlitza

    After praying... I would support the issue of looking after the poor and providing health& dental care to everyone not just the wealthy, providing affordable housing & education to lower income people. Distribute what you have to those who are in need & stop hoarding.What does it tell you to do in the bible & you aren't doing it?Love your neighbour and one another as yourself and love God.

    October 25, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
    • tonycoza

      what you would call "lockstep" i would call upholding and abiding with one of the basic principles of the catholic faith, which is to love on another as jesus loves us. When the apostels attempted to keep a group of children from getting close to jesus, he told them to let the children come to him. Barack obama believes that it is acceptable to have a doctor pull a child's head part of the way out the child's mother's body and crush the head of the child w/ a large pair of what are essentially a large pair of pliers. Everyone is allowed to beleive what they want, but no one can argue with the fact that when a woman has an abortion, a child is killed. Lastly, of course the liberal press is going to say that the catholic vote is not all that important, and that's because romney will win the catholic vote. To the obama-loving press, a voting block is only significant when obama wins it. Being a practicing catholic, and voting for obama cannot be reconciled, period.

      October 28, 2012 at 9:53 am |
  10. Shirlitza

    Prayer changes things according to God's will not our own...Jesus wasn't Catholic, he is Lord...Pray before your vote...have Godly wisdom and discernment as well.

    October 25, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      'Prayer changes things according to God's will not our own..."

      Got Proof?

      October 27, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  11. Bill

    ahhh, Joe. What state you in?? Can you imagine Joe having his finger on the nuclear football. No telling who gets nuked.

    October 25, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  12. mwheel

    I am a catholic woman and I can assure you the catholic vote is no myth. Maybe those who call themselves catholic are not going to church because if they were they would know what the Catholic church stands for.

    October 25, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      What the Catholic Church stands for...

      Secret pedophiles...

      Lying about the 'dangers' of condoms.

      October 27, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • CONNIE Q

      I'm a catholic, but i do not abide by the church not doing anything about the pedophile priest, and lying and moving them from one parish to another. That is not Gods way. I will not uphold a church that is a hypocrite.

      October 29, 2012 at 2:01 am |
  13. Steve

    Atheism is the fastest growing "religion"!!!!!!

    October 25, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Non-stamp collecting is the fastest growing "hobby".

      October 27, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  14. Reality

    Only for the new members of this blog-->>>

    Why Catholics no longer matter in presidential elections:

    Once again, all the conservative votes in the country "ain't" going to help a "pro-life" presidential candidate, i.e Mitt Romney, in 2012 as the "Immoral Majority" rules the country and will be doing so for awhile. The "Immoral Majority" you ask?

    The fastest growing USA voting bloc: In 2008, the 70+ million "Roe vs. Wade mothers and fathers" of aborted womb-babies" whose ranks grow by two million per year i.e. 78+ million "IM" voters in 2012 including many "catholics".

    2008 Presidential popular vote results:

    69,456,897 for pro-abortion/choice BO, 59,934,814 for "pro-life" JM.

    And the irony:

    And all because many women fail to take the Pill once a day or men fail to use a condom even though in most cases these men have them in their pockets. (maybe they should be called the "Stupid Majority"?)

    The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions ( one million/yr) and S-TDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or condoms properly and/or use other safer birth control methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.

    October 25, 2012 at 8:10 am |
  15. Derek Janik

    I think that most American Catholics are not good ones. Most are hypocrites and lazy anyways, but whatever. The media should not focus on Catholics here, they won't find good ones. (At least most suck.)

    October 24, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      Judge much? Matthew 7:1 ”Judge not, lest ye be judged”

      October 24, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • Reality

      The citizens of the USA judge every day as noted by the US Supreme Court, State Supreme courts and analogous judicial/jury venues across this great land.

      And there is some question as to whether Jesus even uttered Matt 7:1. For example, see http://www.faithfutures.org/JDB/jdb118.html.

      October 25, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • GMarius

      You're right, Catholic Europe should be our spiritual model.

      November 1, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • Mariam

      25)I was a convert to Mormonism over twtney five years ago. I have with in the past year had my name is removed.One thing in Catholic circles, we don't do this, We don't have discussions( OP) about other people's faith and discuss what they do wrong. Catholics don't care who is a member by birthright, as opposed to who is the newest convert. I was told by Anne this is a rant. In my Opinion, this whole article is a rant against Catholic social services. You are right we should be free to practice how to practice our religion according to our tenants, but, my point was so should Catholics. Whenever Mormons have a mirror put in front of them, they don't like it, but, they feel free to attack and discuss other people's faiths as if they are all authorities and I'm quite tired of it. We are not being intellectuals here and discussing an important topic, we are being bigots and saying how much better our way of doing things really is compared to someone else way of doing something

      November 10, 2012 at 3:38 am |
  16. beall

    There is the "Catholic vote" and it is the same as the Latino vote.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      No, it's not.

      One may be related to the other, but they are distinctly different.

      October 24, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Latinos make up 21% of Catholics in the US, so the two can hardly be conflated.


      October 24, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
  17. cathophobe

    The people you speak of are primarily Americans. They're lazy & fat. They don't pray, don't go to church, don't know the basics of their beliefs, and don't like the strict rules of their God. Being a follower of Christ is tough business. It's not for wimps.

    Americans like democracy but they don't like doing their civic duties either.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • brvonohlen

      I agree totally.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
  18. Sane person

    Christianity, Islam and Judaism teach horrible morality.

    October 24, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • WanHungLo

      I agree. Being non-religious like China, Russia, and North Korea is the best. They are the greatest humanitarians of all time. They're way way better than Mother Teresa. Hooray for persecution and dictatorships !!!

      October 24, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • Sane person

      That's a false dichotomy, sir.

      October 24, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • WanHungLo

      Since you dare to label those three religions as bad, then you should explicitly state a moral system that is better than all those three. Furthermore, the alternative that you state should have proof of its effectiveness in producing highly moral people, for example, better than Mother Teresa. A large number of followers would also be good evidence.

      I still say China, Russia, and North Korea are the best moral people around.

      October 24, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    October 24, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • TrollAlert

      "Ronald Regonzo" who degenerates to:
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      "pervert alert"

      This troll is not a christian!

      October 24, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs.

      October 24, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things", but your assertions regarding atheism and prayer are unfounded. Using my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module, the expression that best matches the degree to which your assertions may represent truths is: "TOTAL FAIL".

      I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book can help you:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...
      by the Alzheimer's Disease Society

      October 24, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • Chick-a-dee

      God changes things.

      October 24, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
  20. visitor

    If you would segment the respondents by age and gender, you would find even more of the story.

    Old and middle-aged Catholic Men are disproportionately concerned with other women's wombs. Women, especially Middle aged and younger, mostly aren't.

    Since it is mostly women who drive church attendance, it shows that women really don't care what the male leadership says. They want a spiritual community, not more husbands.

    October 23, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
    • Athy

      Are you responding to someone? If not, what are you talking about? If you are, use the reply function. And don't randomly capitalize words, it makes you appear to be stupid (which, in actuality, you may be).

      October 23, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • Mickey1313

      athy, the respond buton does not often work on phones, and your comment displays your ignorance and arrogance.

      October 24, 2012 at 1:50 am |
    • Chick-a-dee

      Based on yesterday's conversation of our Catholic women's group, you can add middle-age & older women to the lock-step follow the 700-club fundamentalists group. The rest of us are interested in health care and taking care of the less fortunate.

      October 24, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.