Nineteen Sixty-four is a research blog for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University edited by Mark M. Gray. CARA is a non-profit research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church. Founded in 1964, CARA has three major dimensions to its mission: to increase the Catholic Church's self understanding; to serve the applied research needs of Church decision-makers; and to advance scholarly research on religion, particularly Catholicism. Follow CARA on Twitter at: caracatholic.

4.18.2012

The 'God Gap' in the First Presidential Polls

In a recent post we presented research indicating that President Obama could win re-election without winning a majority of the Catholic vote (which is historically rare and difficult to do). This is possible with the rising number of U.S. voters without a religious affiliation (i.e., Nones) who historically vote overwhelmingly for Democrats in presidential and congressional elections. We indicated that the president could go no lower than 44% support among Catholics and Protestants if he hopes to win re-election.

With the Republican nominee decided (in all likelihood), the first national head to head polls are coming out. Gallup surveys have shown President Obama trailing but this gap is within the margin of error. Today, Pew released results that also show a tight race with a slim lead for President Obama. It is still a long, long time before any of these polls are predictive of anything. But as a first look, the Obama campaign might be second guessing some of their recent decisions that may have alienated religious voters.

The Pew survey of 2,373 registered voters (landline and cell phone samples) was conducted April 4-15 (margin of error +/-2.3 percentage points). Among Catholics overall, Gov. Romney leads Obama 50% to 45% (he has gained 8 percentage points on Obama since March). This level of support is also consistent with what President Obama would need to make the electoral math work for him (although by just 1 percentage point). His bigger problem is among Protestants overall where his support dips to 43% (and even much lower among Evangelicals). This is too low to indicate a good chance for re-election. More problematic for his campaign is that his support among Nones has dipped below the 70% he needs to comfortably counter-balance poor support among Christian voters (67% now compared to 75% last month). The survey results also indicate that this is likely due to the respondents' overall concern about the economy rather than social issues, where Democratic Party policies attract the votes of Nones best. Social issues lag far behind the economy, jobs, health care, and the deficit in stated importance.


Pew and other survey research organizations frequently report specifically on the preferences of "White Non-Hispanic Catholics." Regrettably, in this survey they don't give us the numbers for Hispanic/Latino(a) Catholic registered voters. But there may be good reason. There are likely too few of these respondents in the survey for them to comfortably report the information (i.e., margins of error are too high). However, this does not make this group unimportant! In fact compare the percentage support for either candidate among Non-Hispanic white Catholics and Catholics overall in the chart above. Hispanic/Latino(a) Catholics' support for the president is primarily what is keeping his current overall support among Catholics above 44% (...it is also notable that support for the president among Catholic women is measured at 51%). 

Hispanic/Latino(a) Catholics are the fastest growing part of the Church and the Catholic electorate. Their growing influence is in some ways as important as the emergent None voters nationally (and even more important in specific states accounting for the Electoral College). For more research on the Catholic Hispanic/Latino(a) voter see the upcoming release: Blessing La PolĂ­tica: The Latino Religious Experience and Political Engagement in the United States. As the publisher notes this book is "an essential guide to the new face of electoral politics in America" providing a "comprehensive analysis of the political tendencies of Latinos and Latinas of faith." How do I know? I wrote the epilogue, "The Growing Influence of the Latino Catholic Vote." Look for more on this topic on this blog soon. 

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