New survey examines political differences between practicing and non-practicing Catholics

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson
Supreme Knight Carl Anderson


A recent survey sponsored by the Knights of Columbus sheds new light on the Catholic vote by examining the differences between the 65 percent of Catholics who regularly practice their faith and the 35 percent who do not. The survey finds that while a narrow majority of practicing Catholics is pro-life, a majority of non-practicing Catholics favors abortion rights.

Additionally, a supermajority of practicing Catholics opposes same-sex marriage, but non-practicing Catholics, while still largely in opposition to the proposal, favor same-sex marriage at a rate higher than the American population as a whole.

The survey, titled “Moral Issues and Catholic Values,” was conducted by the Marist College Institute of Public Opinion between September 24 and October 3, 2008. Surveying 1,733 Americans among whom 813 were Catholics, it claims a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percent for all Americans and 3.5 percent for Catholics specifically.

The poll results show 59 percent of practicing Catholics are pro-life while 65 percent of non-practicing Catholics are pro-choice. This compares to the 50 percent of Americans who describe themselves as pro-choice. About 75 percent of practicing Catholics oppose same-sex marriage. While only 30 percent of the American population favors same-sex marriage, 46 percent of non-practicing Catholics do.

The poll finds that Catholic voters’ views are similar to those of the general population on issues like government funding for the poor, amnesty for illegal immigrants, and global warming. Both groups believe that the economy is the nation’s number one problem. About 70 percent of all registered voters and 70 percent of all registered practicing Catholics say they would vote for a candidate who believes marriage should only be between a man and a woman. About 71 percent of all U.S. residents and 73 percent of all Catholics say they believe the country is in need of a “moral makeover.”

Catholics differ from the electorate as a whole in being less likely to vote for a candidate who favors the death penalty and more likely to favor a candidate who is “committed to success in Iraq.”

According to the survey, about 45 percent of registered practicing Catholics said they would definitely vote for a candidate who supports embryonic stem cell research. Close to 38 percent said they would definitely vote for a candidate who would “leave the economy to market forces,” while only 27 percent said they would definitely vote for a candidate who provided amnesty to illegal immigrants currently working in the U.S.

The survey also shows specific demographic divisions of the Catholic population. Seventy percent of Catholics are white, while 25 percent are Latino. Among practicing Catholics, 72 percent are white and 24 are Latino, while among non-practicing Catholics 65 percent are white and 26 percent Latino. While within the poll’s margin of error, only one percent of practicing Catholics and four percent of non-practicing Catholics are African American.

About 64 percent of practicing Catholics above the age of 18 are married, compared to 49 percent of non-practicing Catholics and 57 percent of the general population. Close to 57 percent of practicing Catholics earn $50,000 or more, though only 50 percent of non-practicing Catholics and 49 percent of Americans overall earn as much. About 41 percent of practicing Catholics are college graduates, but only 25 percent of non-practicing Catholics and 34 percent of Americans overall are so educated.

Like the American population overall, 59 percent of practicing Catholics are age 45 or older, compared to 56 percent of non-practicing Catholics. Slightly more Catholics under the age of 45 are non-practicing Catholics than practicing.

About 36 percent of Catholics say they attend religious services weekly, compared to 8 percent who attend more than once a week, 21 percent who attend once or twice a month, 19 percent who attend a few times a year, 10 percent who seldom attend services and 6 percent who never do.

Full details of the poll results can be found at