A new poll of Americans ages 18-34 has surveyed the faith, politics, and issue positions of young adults before the 2008 election. The poll claims about 60 percent of younger self-identified Catholics say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 44 percent reportedly support same-sex marriage, a number which rises to 64 percent when religious liberty protections are emphasized.
The claims come from the Faith in Public Life’s “The Faith and American Politics Survey,” which was conducted by Public Religion Research between August 28 and September 19. Polling 2,000 American adults and an over sample of 1,250 younger adults, its methods included both land line and cell phone interviews.
Overall, 44 percent of Catholics said abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, while 54 percent said it should not. About 61 percent of young Catholics reported it was not a very important voting issue, compared to 56 percent of Catholics 35 years and older.
As a whole, 30 percent of Catholics agreed that “gay couples should be allowed to marry,” rising to 47 percent when the question is framed by the insistence that “no church or congregation would be required to perform marriages for gay couples.”
Only 26 percent of young Catholics said they favored no legal recognition for same-sex couples, compared to 32 percent of those 35 years old and up. About 22 percent of young Catholics considered it a very important voting issue, compared with 27 percent of those 35 and older.
Respondents were also asked what they heard talked about in church. Among all Catholics, 90 percent said they have heard about hunger and poverty while 78 percent claimed to have heard about abortion and 37 percent claimed to have heard about homosexuality. About 33 percent said they heard about immigration while 58 percent said they had heard about the war in Iraq and 54 percent said they heard about the environment at church.
On the issue of torture, about 54 percent of Catholic survey respondents initially reported they opposed torture. When framed by the survey’s “Golden Rule” argument against torture, which states “the U.S. government should not use methods against our enemies that we would not want used on American soldiers,” this opposition rose to 62 percent.
Turning to the presidential election, the poll shows overall voters who attend religious services once or twice a month support Obama at a rate of 60 percent. The same group showed 49 percent support for John Kerry in 2004. Catholics aged 35 and older are split between McCain and Obama 46 percent to 44 percent, but Obama leads McCain among younger Catholics 55 to 40 percent.
Overall, 49 percent of voters think Obama is friendly towards religion, while only 45 percent say the same of McCain.
Commentators on the poll tried to depict its results as showing the end of the “culture wars.”
“Younger Americans, including younger Americans of faith, are not the culture war generation,” claimed said Dr. Robert Jones, President of Public Religion Research and lead analyst of the poll. In his view, they are “bridging the divides that entrenched their elders and ushering in an era of consensus in which the common good trumps the clash of ideologies.”
Katie Paris, Director of Communications Strategy at Faith in Public Life, agreed.
“Expect to see the dividing lines of the culture wars continue to fade,” she asserted.
Kristin Williams of the Faith in Public Life Institute provided CNA with Dr. Robert Jones’ more detailed statistical breakdowns of the Catholic respondents.
Of Catholics ages 18-34, 28 percent reported attending church once a week, while 22 percent said they attend once or twice a month. Another 27 percent reported attending a few times a year, while 17 percent said they seldom or never attend church. Six percent reported attending church more than once a week.
Among all registered voters the church attendance rate was somewhat different with 18 percent reporting that they attend religious services more than once a week and 27 percent saying they attend once a week. About 15 percent attended once or twice a month, 16 percent attended a few times each year, while 23 percent seldom or never attend services.
Among all age ranges of Catholic registered voters, 10 percent reported attending religious services more than once a week while 36 percent reported attending once a week. Eighteen percent of Catholics reported attending once or twice a month, while equal percentages each reported attending a few times a year or seldom or never.