EWTN poll: Catholics in key battleground states are focused on economy as midterms approach
Shoppers are seen in a Kroger supermarket on Oct. 14, 2022, in Atlanta. Economic prospects are becoming "more pessimistic" in the United States on growing worries of weaker demand, the Federal Reserve said in a report Oct. 19, 2022, citing heightened inflation and rising interest rates. | Photo by ELIJAH NOUVELAGE/AFP via Getty Images
Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 25, 2022 / 16:00 pm
According to the findings of an EWTN News/RealClear Opinion Research survey in the weeks before the 2022 midterm elections, large majorities of likely Catholic voters across six key battleground states — Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Ohio, and Pennsylvania — consider the economy, including jobs, inflation, and rising interest rates, to be the most pressing issue facing America.
In Georgia, for example, 67.1% of Catholic voters view the economy as most important, while in Florida, the issue rises to 67.6%.
Overall, Catholics in the six states rank the economy most important by an average of 63.1%. The economic concerns of Catholic voters dwarf every other issue, including immigration and border security (11.4%), abortion (7.3%), climate change (7.2%), health care (4.5%), and crime (3.7%).
This third and final EWTN News/RealClear Opinion Research poll for the 2022 elections was conducted by the Trafalgar Group from Oct. 14–18 and surveyed more than 500 likely Catholic voters in each of six battleground states. It has a 4.1% margin of error, at a 95% confidence level.
The focus on the economy by Catholics is a significant element in another major finding in the poll: President Joe Biden faces strong disapproval among likely Catholic voters in the six states, and Republican candidates in the states polled are either in the lead in Senate and governor races, or are competitive against their Democrat rivals.
In each of the battleground states, Biden suffers from strong disapproval among Catholic voters, with an average disapproval rate across the six states of 62.2% and an average approval of 35.4%. Among Catholic likely voters, 57.5% strongly disapprove of his job performance, while 12.2% strongly approve.
Four of the states (Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania) surveyed in the poll were narrowly carried by Biden in the 2020 presidential election, and in all four he is now confronting an uphill struggle to win back disaffected Catholic voters.
In Georgia, the nation’s second Catholic president has an overall disapproval rate of 68.3% among likely Catholic voters. In Arizona, 58.5% of Catholics disapprove; in Nevada, 63.3% disapprove; and in Pennsylvania, 56.5% disapprove. In two of these battleground states that were won by Donald Trump, Florida and Ohio, the president faces an overall disapproval of 61.4% and 62.4% respectively.
While the well-documented gulf that exists between active daily or weekly Mass-attending Catholics and those who do not attend regularly remains in this new survey, there is a consensus of disapproval among all Catholics of the job Biden is doing. However, the president’s strongest source of Catholic disapproval is among those who attend Mass daily or weekly.
In Pennsylvania, his job disapproval among daily and weekly communicants is more than 70%, while his average approval among Catholic voters who attend annually or less hovers around 45%. Similar numbers are found throughout the battleground states, with daily and weekly Mass attendees having a far more negative opinion of the second Catholic president than those who attend less often.
Senate and governor races
The president’s political woes among Catholics are not aiding the position of the Democrats in the six battleground states both on the senatorial and gubernatorial election fronts. In the races that will determine who controls the U.S. Senate, the survey found that the Republican candidates for the Senate were all in the lead among Catholic voters heading into the midterms.
In Arizona, Republican Blake Masters now narrowly polls ahead of Democrat Sen. Mark Kelly among Catholic voters by 51.4%-46.3%. In Florida, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio leads Democrat Val Demings by 59.1%-36.9%. In Georgia, Republican Herschel Walker leads Democrat Sen. Raphael Warnock by 64.7%-32.7%. Nevada Republican Adam Laxalt is ahead of Democrat Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, 56.7%-36.4%. And in Ohio, Republican J.D. Vance leads Democrat Tim Ryan, 55.5%-41.0%.
Once again, daily and weekly Mass-attending Catholics are proving vital to the electoral advantage currently held by Republican candidates in the six states.
The findings are very similar in the governor races in the six states. Only in Pennsylvania, where Democrat Josh Shapiro leads over the Republican candidate, Doug Mastriano, 50.8%-44.5%, does a Democrat poll ahead of the Republican among Catholic voters. In Arizona, Republican Kari Lake narrowly leads Democrat Katie Hobbs by 52.5%-46.9%. Nearby, in Nevada, Republican Joe Lombardo is ahead of Democrat Steve Sisolak, 55.6%-34.2%.
In Georgia, Republican Brian Kemp comfortably leads Stacey Abrams by 67.1%-31.1%. In Ohio, Republican Mike DeWine is ahead of Democrat Nan Whaley by 61.3%-34.4%. And in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis leads Democrat Charlie Crist 61.4%-34.5% in his bid for re-election.
Focus on abortion
While the economy is the major driving force for Catholics as they decide how to vote in the midterms, the gambit by the Democrats to focus so intensely on abortion in the wake of the overturn of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court in June seems not to have succeeded.
As seen, Catholics across the six states that were surveyed placed abortion a very distant third among the most important issues for the country, behind the economy and immigration/border security. While abortion remains a divisive issue for Catholics — despite the clear teaching of the Church against it — Catholics across every subgroup of Mass attendance do not see abortion as the most urgent issue for America for the election.
In Nevada, for example, 46.2% of Catholics who attend Mass only once a year responded that abortion should be available to a woman at any time she wants one during her entire pregnancy. Only 2.8% of these Catholics believe abortion is the most pressing issue for the election.
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At the same time, the vast majority of Catholics in all six states want restrictions or regulations on abortion.
In Pennsylvania, 81% of all likely Catholic voters want some restrictions; in Florida, 82.5% want restrictions; and in Georgia 84% favor restrictions. This places most Catholic voters in opposition to the Democrat candidates who have largely opposed any restrictions on abortion and who have unanimously called for the codification of Roe v. Wade into federal law.
When it comes to the question of the impact of Dobbs, by an average of 59.1%, a majority of Catholics in the six states support the idea that elected representatives and ballot initiatives rather than judges and courts should decide the question of where abortion policy should be decided. This view would support the outcome of the Dobbs decision that sent the question of abortion to the states.
The Hispanic Catholic vote
The Hispanic Catholic vote is another potentially significant group to watch in the midterms, especially as polling by EWTN News/RealClear Opinion Research has detected movement of Catholic Hispanics away from the Democratic Party and toward the Republicans.
This was evident in the September poll, which showed a marked decline in approval for Biden from among Hispanic Catholics. The Hispanic Catholic vote in the battleground states varies in size, but three states worth looking at are Arizona, Nevada, and Florida given their potential influence.
In Nevada, Biden has a job disapproval rate of 72.8% compared with 26.7% approval. In Florida, his disapproval among Hispanics is 60.2% and his approval is 35.6%. Arizona’s Hispanics, on the other hand, comprise 31% of the state’s overall population, and within the Hispanic Catholic community, Biden’s approval is an important outlier at 45.8% approval versus 52.3% disapproval.
That modestly stronger support for the Democratic Party carries over into the races for the Senate and governorship, and Hispanic Catholics are supporting Mark Kelly over Blake Masters 53.6%-46.4% and Katie Hobbs over Kari Lake 53.6%-46.4%. While the Hispanic Catholic population is small in states like Pennsylvania or Ohio, in Arizona it could prove the determining factor in several major races.
Mass attendance and belief in the Real Presence
Each state is different, of course, with its own demographic, political, and cultural dimensions. However, the poll found some important commonalities in the questions of Mass attendance and belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Where the national average in the belief in the Real Presence has hovered around 50% in the EWTN News/RealClear polling over the course of multiple polls, Catholic voters in the battleground states collectively have a slightly higher acceptance (53.5%) of Church teaching that the Body and Blood of Christ are truly, really, and substantially present in the Eucharist.
Likewise, Mass attendance has been approximately 24% for weekly Catholics nationally. In the battleground states, weekly or more frequent Mass attendance is worth noting. While in Arizona (24.4%), Florida (22.1%), and Nevada (21.7%), weekly attendance rates are on par with the national average, weekly attendees in Ohio (30.6%), Pennsylvania (30.5%), and especially Georgia (41.4%) are notably higher.
That translates into a potentially larger voting group that already is very unhappy with Biden and his policies and that might very well help determine the balance of power in the U.S. Congress and influence American political life for years to come.
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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U.S. Catholic voters are split on the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, but a majority agrees that abortion should be restricted and that there should be at least some protections for the unborn.