New poll says practicing Catholics more likely to support Bush

While Catholics tend to show a slight preference for Senator John Kerry over President George W. Bush, a recent Gallup poll indicates that among practicing Catholics, who attend church on a weekly basis, Bush leads Kerry in the upcoming presidential race. On the other hand, Catholics who attend church infrequently support Kerry.

Historically, Catholics voted for the Democratic presidential candidate in large part. However, in the past three decades, Catholics, who comprise 25 percent of the U.S. population, have become a key swing voting group. They proved their influence on election results when they broke with their historical voting pattern to support the winning Republican candidates in 1972, 1980, and 1984.

While, Bush had at least a slight lead over Kerry among Catholics in every poll before mid-May, the last five Gallup surveys have shown the opposite. In the most recent poll, Catholic registered voters favored Kerry by a 51 percent to 45 percent margin.

Why this shift? Gallup suggests one possibility is that as voters learn more about Kerry, they become aware that he professes the Catholic faith.

Support for Kerry depends on church attendance

The poll indicates that Catholics are divided in their support for Kerry, according to church attendance.

Combined data from Gallup's two most recent polls, conducted July 19-21 and July 30-Aug. 1, show that Catholic registered voters, who attend church weekly, support Bush over Kerry by a 52 percent to 42 percent margin. This group represents about one-third of all Catholic registered voters.

Among Catholic registered voters, who attend church on a semi-regular basis, that is, nearly every week or monthly, Kerry leads Bush by 50 percent to 45 percent. This group represents 27 percent of all Catholic registered voters.

Among Catholic registered voters who attend church on an infrequent basis, Kerry has a 57 percent to 39 percent lead. This is the largest group of Catholics, representing 38 percent of all Catholic registered voters.

Poll results show that Kerry tends to appeal to non-practicing Catholics, while Bush appeals more to practicing Catholics. Bush's policy stands on abortion, stem-cell research, and same-sex marriage appear to be more consistent with Catholic teachings than Kerry's.

Gallup also suggests that Kerry's higher appeal may be linked to his appeal to Hispanic voters, who are overwhelmingly Catholic – 62 percent, according to Gallup's June Minority Relations poll. Nonetheless, recent Gallup data suggest that Hispanic Catholics are only slightly more likely to support Kerry than are white Catholics.

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 545 Catholic registered voters, aged 18 and older. The polls were conducted July 19-21 and July 30-Aug. 1, and have a margin of error of ±5 percentage points.

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