Election Day 2022: Here’s what we know about Catholic voters

shutterstock 1218285568 A roll of I Voted stickers. | PhilipR / Shutterstock

Catholics are heading to the polls Tuesday along with the rest of the electorate to decide who will fill all 435 U.S. House seats and 34 of the 100 U.S. Senate seats. 

National polls show close races for the U.S. Senate and House, with a recent PBS Newshour/NPR/Marist poll showing 46% of Americans saying they will vote Democrat, and 46% Republican. 

Polling by EWTN has shed light on some of the top issues for Catholic voters in this election cycle, including inflation and the economy, education, and immigration. Several statewide ballot measures related to issues such as abortion and marijuana legalization, as well as an Ohio U.S. Senate race featuring a pair of Catholics with divergent policy positions, will be closely watched on Tuesday. 

Before the results start pouring in, here are a few fast facts about Catholic voters in the United States. 

There are an estimated 30 million Catholic registered voters.

Mark Gray, director of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), a research center affiliated with Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., told CNA that because the U.S. Census Bureau does not record voters’ religions, finding exactly how many “Catholic voters” there are can be difficult.

However, he said, estimates for the number of Catholic voters on the national level can be made based on extrapolations from census data as well as exit polls. 

Gray said the estimated overall voting-age population in the U.S. in 2022 is just over 258 million. The General Social Survey estimates the percentage of U.S. adults who self-identify as Catholic is 22%, giving a rough estimate of nearly 57 million Catholics of voting age, he said. 

Of course, a certain number of Catholic adults won’t be eligible to vote, such as those who are not U.S. citizens. Looking at the U.S. adult population that is Catholic and also has U.S. citizenship drops the percentage to 18%, Gray said, making the Catholic voting-eligible population (VEP) approximately 46.5 million.

Using the same 18% estimate and combining it with another 2020 estimate by the U.S. Census Bureau, 168.3 million people are registered to vote, giving a rough estimate of 30 million total Catholics registered to vote. 

In the last nationwide elections, held almost exactly two years ago, 62.8% of people of voting age voted, according to Pew Research Center Estimates. At the last midterm elections in 2018, an unusually high 47.5% of the voting-age population turned out. Pollsters expect higher numbers at the 2022 midterms. 

U.S. Catholics are neither reliably Republican nor Democrat.

Data show that Catholics are fairly evenly split when it comes to the two major U.S. political parties, but a substantial number of Catholics don’t identify with a party at all. 

According to CARA’s polling data, most adult Catholics overall are not affiliated with a political party (25.9 million) and 23.9 million consider themselves to be “middle of the road” when it comes to political ideology. 

That said, CARA estimated that there are 16.2 million Catholic Democrats compared with 12.4 million Catholic Republicans, but interestingly more Catholics describe themselves as conservative than liberal — 19.3 million versus 13.7 million. 

An EWTN News/RealClear Opinion Research poll conducted in June, working with a sample size of 1,581 Catholic voters, found that 42% identify with the Democratic Party, an apparent decrease from the 45% of Catholics calling themselves Democrats in 2020. The percentage of Catholics who identify as Republicans increased from 34% to 38% in that time, with 20% identifying as Independents.

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Data from the 2020 election show a very close split between the Catholic electorate when it came to choosing between a Democrat and a Republican for president. Edison exit polls from 2020 estimated that 52% of all Catholic voters voted for Joe Biden, and 47% for Trump. AP VoteCast, on the other hand, pegged the Catholic split as being even closer, concluding that 49% of Catholics voted for Biden and 50% for Trump. 

Breaking down their presidential preference by race, an EWTN poll conducted in September showed Trump with an edge among white Catholics, 50%-45%. The closeness of the split becomes more apparent when comparing it with white voters of other faiths. According to AP VoteCast, white evangelical Christians — who made up almost a quarter of the electorate in 2020 — voted overwhelmingly for Trump, 81%, versus only 18% for Biden. 

Gallup concluded that the Catholic vote was split in each of the last three elections, with minor fluctuations from year to year. The Democratic candidate received 50% in 2012, 46% in 2016 and 52% in 2020, according to exit polls. And despite Biden being elected as only the second Catholic president in U.S. history in 2020, Gallup concluded that ​​”Biden’s Catholicism did not result in a startling or substantial uptick in support for the Democratic ticket among Biden’s fellow Catholics compared with Democratic performance among Catholics in previous elections.”

Among Catholic voters looking ahead to the midterms, 47% see Democrats in Congress as favorable (compared with 53% in 2020), according to an ETWN poll conducted in June, and 49% see them as unfavorable (compared with 47% in 2020). Republicans are just as unpopular, but their numbers haven’t changed since 2020, EWTN’s poll found. 

As with voters overall, the economy is a top issue for Catholic voters. 

An EWTN poll conducted in September found that more than half of Catholic likely voters cited either the economy in general or inflation specifically when asked about the most important issue facing the nation. Immigration and abortion were tied for third, at 10% each, followed by crime and climate change at around 9% each. 

While a major element of the Democratic Party’s 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. Abortion was chosen as the top issue among Hispanic voters, however. 

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Catholics aren’t happy with President Biden’s performance — but they don’t want Trump again, either. 

EWTN’s polling in September showed that Catholics across the political spectrum are unhappy with the performance of the nation’s second Catholic president. 

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 reelection bid; 19% of Catholics are not sure. 

That being said, most Catholics (67%-27% with 10% not sure) also do not want former President Donald Trump to run for president again in 2024.

Frequency of Mass attendance affects how Catholics vote. 

CARA zeroed in on Catholics who attend Mass with some frequency, rather than only a few times a year. CARA found that 32,950,980 people in the United States attend Mass at least once a month or more. 

Looking at how Mass attendance influences their votes, Pew found that about six in 10 white Catholics who attend Mass monthly or more often (63%) supported Trump in the 2020 election, while 36% supported Biden. Less frequent Mass attendees expressed less support for Trump (53%) and more support for Biden (47%).

Recent polling by EWTN also sheds light on how a Catholic’s level of involvement in their faith affects how they vote. 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.

The disparity between Catholics who practice their faith regularly and those who do not is also reflected in their approval of President Biden. 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%.

Catholics of different races vote differently. 

Breaking the demographics down by race, Hispanic Catholics tend to associate more with the Democratic Party overall (68%) than their white neighbors, the Pew Research Center says, whereas 57% of white Catholics favor the Republican Party. 

When asked by EWTN in September about their preference for candidates in the midterms, however, 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%.

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