Most Catholics believe that President Joe Biden, the nation’s second Catholic president, should not run for a second term in 2024, according to a new EWTN News/RealClear Opinion Research Poll of likely Catholic voters released Monday.
The poll, conducted Sept. 12–19, shows Biden continues to face challenges in garnering support among Catholic voters in the run-up to Election Day on Nov. 8. In particular, the poll indicates waning support for the president among Hispanic Catholic voters, traditionally a strong source of support for the Democratic Party.
Among other highlights of the poll, Catholic voters rank inflation and the economy as the most critical issues facing the country, and most say they are very concerned about the state of education, especially after the lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Much of the poll’s results provide a snapshot of how Catholic voters assess Biden’s performance after two years in office.
When asked how they feel Biden is handling his job as president, nearly 52% of Catholic voters said they either disapproved (5%) or strongly disapproved (47%); around 46% either approved (32%) or strongly approved (14%). Notably, the strong disapproval number was significantly higher than strongly approved. Only 2% of voters had no opinion.
A majority of Catholics (58%) feel that Biden should not run for a second term in 2024, while only 22% support a possible re-election bid; 19% of Catholics are not sure. Most Catholics (67%-27% with 10% not sure) also do not want former President Donald Trump to run for president again in 2024.
The president’s challenges may also be reflected in the fact that the survey found Democrats trailing Republicans by four points in the generic ballot for Congress. When asked if they would vote for a Democrat or Republican candidate, almost 49% of Catholics would vote for the Republican candidate while 45% would choose the Democrat, with the rest not sure. This margin underestimates the Republican advantage in the race for control of Congress since Democrat voters are more geographically clustered.
The well-documented statistical disparity that exists between Mass-attending Catholics and those who attend only yearly or never remains in this latest poll.
Among Catholics who attend Mass once a week or more often, 75% say they would vote for the Republican candidate, while 54% of those who attend a few times a year or less would vote for the Democrat candidate.
Catholics are also divided on the president’s job approval. A substantial majority of Catholics (75%) who attend Mass at least weekly or more disapprove of the president’s handling of his job while his approval rating among Catholics who attend Mass a few times a year or less stands at 53%.
The poll, conducted by the Trafalgar Group, surveyed 1,581 Catholic voters and has a margin of error of 2.5%. The questionnaire was administered using a mix of six different methods, including live phone calls, text messages, and email.
A third and final EWTN News/RealClear poll will focus on the Catholic vote in the days just before the midterms.
Catholics divided on abortion
On the issue of abortion, the survey of Catholic voters taken after the release of the Supreme Court’s June 24 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, found that Catholics remain very divided even as a massive majority (87%) wants various restrictions on abortion.
Surveyed on whether they agree or disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Catholic voters are almost evenly split, with 48% saying that abortion should be a federally protected right and 46% saying each state should determine its own abortion policy; 6% were not sure. Still, 13% of Catholics say abortion should be available to a woman at any time she wants one during her entire pregnancy while 8% say that abortion should never be permitted under any circumstances.
Overall, most Catholics favor restrictions ranging from abortion should be allowed only in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother, 27%; until 15 weeks, when the baby can feel pain, 20%; only during the first six months of pregnancy, 13%; until a heartbeat can be detected, 10%; or only to save the life of the mother, 9%. Catholics who attend Mass once a week or more favor the overturn of Roe by 75%, while 50% of those who attend a few times a year or less believe abortion should be a federally protected right.
Catholics are similarly divided on whether they would be more or less likely to support a candidate who agrees with the overturn of Roe v. Wade, with 42% saying they would be more likely and 42% saying they would be less likely; 16% are not sure.
On the recent controversy surrounding pregnancy resource centers, some two-thirds of Catholic voters support public funding for these centers, where pregnant women can seek help with alternatives to abortion, while 18% are opposed and the remainder are not sure. Likewise, 62% say that political and church leaders should be speaking out against the recent attacks and acts of vandalism on pregnancy resource centers, compared with 15% who say they should not and another 23% who are not sure.
Inflation, jobs are major worries
Abortion, however, is not the most important issue to Catholic voters as they look to the midterms. While a major element of the Democrat campaign for the 2022 election, abortion trails significantly behind other issues, including inflation and the economy, as most important. Only 10% of Catholics say abortion is the most important issue facing the nation — tied with immigration, while 34% say inflation and another nearly 20% say the economy/jobs.
Like most Americans, Catholics are feeling the impact of inflation. Asked how much their personal finances have been affected by rising prices and inflation, 81% of Catholic voters say that inflation has impacted them, while only 19% say not much or not at all.
A plurality (41%) place the blame for inflation on Biden and his administration, while nearly 32% blame it on the global slowdown due to COVID-19 or the Russian invasion of Ukraine (more than 9%), and 17% say all of the above or they don’t know. As for the Inflation Reduction Act that the president recently signed into law, Catholics express little confidence that it will reduce inflation. A majority of Catholics (54%) say they don’t have much or any confidence that it will reduce inflation, while 37% say they have a great deal or some confidence and the rest are not sure.
Hispanic support slipping for Biden, Democrats
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One potentially significant development the poll found was a decline in support for the president and Democrats in general among Hispanic Catholics — historically a reliable Democrat voting bloc.
When asked how they feel Biden is handling his job as president, 50% of Hispanic Catholics say they strongly approve (11%) or approve (39%), while nearly 47% say they either disapprove (7%) or strongly disapprove (40%). Biden’s numbers among white Catholics are much worse, with 54% strongly disapproving (51%) or disapproving (4%), compared with 44%, who either strongly approve (16%) or approve (28%). Among African-American Catholics, he enjoys a very high approval rate of 90%, with 12% approving strongly and 78% approving. The first EWTN/RealClear poll in July found that Biden’s approval rating among white Catholics was 36%, 59% among Hispanic Catholics, and 72% among Black Catholics.
As for whether he should run for re-election, the president is facing a serious electoral and demographic challenge. Only 17% of white Catholics think he should run, while 62% say he should not. Among Hispanic Catholics, only 28% say he should run, and 53% say he should not. Almost all African-American Catholics (94%) think he should run again.
When asked about their preference for candidates in the midterms, Hispanic Catholics are now evenly divided, with 45% favoring the Democrat and 44% preferring the Republican. Among white Catholics, Republicans hold an edge of 51%-44%. Black Catholics favor the Democrat 90%-10%.
One other area of concern to many Catholics is that of education, especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns that impacted schools across the country. Three-quarters of Catholics said they are concerned about a “COVID deficit” in schoolchildren that has caused them to have lost significant intellectual and social development; around 17% said they were not concerned and 10% said they were not sure.
A majority of Catholics (nearly 78%) either strongly support (47%) or support (21%) school choice, a policy that allows public education funds to follow students to the schools or services that best fit their needs, including a public school, private school, charter school, home school, parochial school, or any other learning environment a family might choose; 26% either strongly oppose (17%) or oppose (9%) school choice.
Majorities of Catholics also support parents of K–12 students helping determine what is being taught in schools (64%-31%), oppose biological boys who identify as girls competing against biological girls on school sports teams (76%-14%), and oppose introducing Critical Race Theory (CRT) into the classroom (60%-29%).
Half of Catholics believe in Real Presence
Finally, in the area of Catholic belief and practice, some 84% of Catholics believe in heaven. Previous polls found that 77% believe in hell and 65% believe in purgatory. A majority of Catholic voters (77%) also believe in guardian angels.
When asked about their Mass attendance post-COVID, only 1% of Catholics attend daily, 7% attend more than once a week, 24% once a week, 10% once or twice a month, 26% a few times a year, 5% once a year, and 26% less than once a year or never.
The numbers for Mass attendance are matched by belief in the Real Presence of the Eucharist. As found also in the last poll, 50% of Catholics believe that the transformed bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Christ while 40% say the bread and wine are symbols of the Body and Blood of Christ; almost 10% say they are not sure. At the same time, only 26% of Catholics go to confession at least monthly or yearly, while 50% never go.
For the past 20 years, Dr. Matthew E. Bunson has been active in the area of Catholic social communications and education, including writing, editing, and teaching on a variety of topics related to Church history, the papacy, the saints and Catholic culture. He is faculty chair at Catholic Distance University, a senior fellow of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, and the author or co-author of over 50 books including: "The Encyclopedia of Catholic History," "The Pope Encyclopedia," "We Have a Pope! Benedict XVI," "The Saints Encyclopedia"and best-selling biographies of St. Damien of Molokai and St. Kateri Tekakwitha.
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