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Another Object Lesson in Polling Catholics

3-24-11 Posted by Admin in How to Vote Catholic 2 Comments

A few weeks ago Catholic Advocate noted the skewered approach to polling Catholics utilized by the Barna Group — “Another Lesson in Misunderstanding Catholic Voters” — an organization of highly respected pollsters in the Evangelical community.

In a study of religiously-aligned Republican attitudes toward the 2012 presidential candidates, Barna’s pollsters completely ignored the crucial distinction between Mass-attending Catholics and those who merely identify themselves as Catholic.  At the same time, Barna employed a distinction between “Born-Agains” and other self-identified Christians.

Barna clearly understands that not all Christian respondents to their polling possess equal commitment to their professed faith but failed to use the standard question about Mass attendance to distinguish active Catholics from inactive.

What Barna did is all too common among political and religious pollsters. Far too many surveys fail to disaggregate practicing from non-practicing Catholics. One would think this habit would be long past when even CNN’s exit polling for national elections includes a question on frequency of church attendance.

New polling about same-sex marriage from the Public Religion Research Center illustrates the importance of making the distinction among Catholic voters that Barna failed to make. This report reveals a predictable correlation between the level of Mass attendance and opposition to same-sex marriage.

59% of Catholics who attend Mass one to two times a year support same-sex marriage.

43% of Catholics who attend Mass one to two times a month support same-sex marriage.

Only 26% of Catholics who attend Mass weekly support same-sex marriage.

As Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, succinctly put it:

“In other words, there is a positive correlation between Mass attendance and adherence to the Church’s teachings. This makes perfect sense: Catholics who are Catholic in name only can be expected to entertain a secular vision of morality, i.e., one that prizes radical autonomy. Those who are serious about their religion look to more authoritative sources for guidance.”

The Public Religion Service Center also uncovered an interesting fact about the message coming from Catholic clergy to those sitting in the pews:

“Compared to the general church-going public, Catholics are significantly less likely to hear about the issue of homosexuality from their clergy, but those who do are much more likely to hear negative messages. Only about 1-in-4 (27%) Catholics who attend church services regularly say their clergy speak about the issue of homosexuality, but nearly two-thirds (63%) of this group say the messages they hear are negative.”

It should be noted that the funding for this polling came from the Arcus Foundation well-known for its advocacy of gay, lesbian, and transgendered causes. The pollsters were hoping to show Catholic support for same-sex marriage as well as connect Catholic teaching with the suicide rates among gay and lesbian youth.

The polling failed on both counts:  Catholics who practice their faith oppose same-sex marriage, and less than 18% of Catholics report hearing “negative” messages from the pulpit about homosexuality.

By Deal W. Hudson, President of Catholic Advocate

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2 Responses to Another Object Lesson in Polling Catholics

  1. jb says:

    I don’t know that Barna has any interest in making distinctions among Catholics. He thinks we’re all going to hell, anyway.

  2. ph says:

    Well, I think it’s a fair measure. As a Catholic that was a Protestant, the same is true of the Protestants he interviewed. It’s not that he some how treated the Protestants differently. There are many nominal Protestants too that threw their part of the stats off.

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