by Philip Wegmann
He wears a rosary on his wrist, attends Mass weekly, and remains the only Catholic president in United States history other than John F. Kennedy. And yet, a clear majority of Catholic voters would prefer that President Biden not return to the Oval Office.
When asked if the president should run for a second term, 58.4% replied “no.” Only 22.2% said “yes.” Rough results, but Biden shouldn’t take them too personally.
According to a recent RealClear Opinion Research survey done in concert with Catholic television network EWTN, these voters would like to see a change in the leadership of both major political parties. Catholics have also soured on Biden’s predecessor, and another clear majority, 63.3%, report that they do not want to see Donald Trump on the ballot in 2024.
Topline findings: Full polling breakdown
The results are telling, given that Catholics were a key demographic in the last presidential election. And while they continue to be a significant subset of the electorate, representing roughly one-fourth of U.S. voters, their views increasingly mirror the concerns of non-Catholics.
Like the rest of the country, the Catholic view of the Catholic president is split. They might worship the same way on Sunday, but then this demographic diverges over the way Biden does his job the rest of the week. A slight majority, 51.8%, disapprove of his performance. Another 46.2%, meanwhile, approve. There is a notable difference in intensity of feeling: 47.2% report “strong disapproval” of the president compared to just 14.2% who “strongly approve” of him.
Those numbers might sting when the White House reads them. The survey won’t shock them, though. Biden World has had to develop thick callouses to handle overwhelmingly negative polling. In fact, the president has been underwater since last summer, a position that has improved somewhat but not completely. Today in the RealClearPolitics Average, Biden has an approval rating of just 42.4%.
Catholic voters are obviously concerned about the economy like everyone else. Inflation, according to 34.2% of respondents, was the top problem facing the country. The economy and jobs were a related but distant second with 19.7%.
An overwhelming majority, 53.9%, ranked those intertwined challenges as their top concern. Abortion and immigration tied for a distant third place in the minds of Catholic voters, with 10% each.
Inflation is the defining challenge of the Biden administration. The president has said as much. His solution: The Inflation Reduction Act, legislation which he declared in the Rose Garden two weeks ago was not just “the single most important legislation passed in Congress to combat” that problem, but also “one of the most significant laws in our nation’s history.”
The problem for the president is that Catholics don’t share that faith. A weaker dollar has brought them pain, with 41.9% reporting that it has affected their finances “a great deal.” Another 39% say inflation has affected their wallets “some.” Who is to blame for that problem? A clear plurality, 41.1%, point the finger at Biden and his administration while 31.7% said it was fault of the global slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Just 9.4% believed that consumer prices were increasing because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. A pessimistic but indecisive 15.5% reported the problem was “all of the above.”
Catholic voters do not believe that Biden’s prescription will tackle the problem anytime soon. Some 45.5% reported having no confidence in the Inflation Reduction Act, the legislation the president celebrated in the Rose Garden, while 14.1% held out hope that the spending package would help “a great deal.”
The White House shifted focus this summer in the wake of the Dobbs decision to abortion access, hoping that after the reversal of Roe v. Wade social issues might pique the interest of voters and buoy Democratic chances at the polls. There is little in the RCP/EWTN poll to support that theory, at least with Roman Catholics.
Abortion tied with immigration as the third most important concern on the mind of Catholic voters. Despite the teaching of the church, however, Catholics remain split. On the question of abortion restrictions post-Roe, 46.2% said that each state should determine its own abortion policy, while another 47.8% were in line with the White House, reporting that abortion should instead be a federally protected right.
Framing the question in light of the coming midterms didn’t change the result. Pollsters asked voters if they were more or less likely to support a candidate who agreed with overturning Roe, allowing each state to determine abortion policy.
Exactly 42% said they would be “more likely” to do so. Roughly 42% said they were “less likely.”
Education was not a top concern for Catholic voters. Just 1.7% ranked it as the top challenge of the country, and yet they overwhelmingly believe that children in K-12 schools had been set back academically by the pandemic. An overwhelming majority, 73.7%, reported that they were concerned about the “COVID deficit” in intellectual and social development that school children now face.
A majority, 66.9%, had children in public school. The rest sent their kids to parochial or private institutions: Catholic school (7.9%), non-Catholic parochial schools (6.5%), or private non-religiously affiliated schools (18.7%). Yet, of those who had kids in public schools, 46.6% reported that they had considered removing them from that system and enrolling them in private or parochial schools.
Regardless of where their kids learn, and unlike former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe who infamously said the opposite, a majority of Catholic voters, 64.4%, believe that parents should be helping to determine what students are taught. These voters have also soured on progressive priorities. Contra White House stated policy, 59.9% oppose the introduction of critical race theory in the classroom.
Another hot button where Catholic voters are unified: 75.6% said they opposed allowing biological boys who identify as girls to compete against girls in sports. The White House has taken the opposite position, and 53% believe that the “transgender ideology” espoused by this administration and others “conflicts with Catholic teaching.”
The faith of the president is a liberal one, even progressive. Biden, at times, runs counter to the teaching of the church. He does not, however, hide from his religion, often quoting the words of his grandfather who would tell him “Joey, keep the faith.” His grandmother, as the often-repeated story goes, would reply, “No, Joey, spread it.”
It is unclear if Catholic voters will rebuke that president indirectly at the polls. One thing is quite certain: Most believe his access to the table of Christ must not be impeded.
A contingent of conservative bishops had begun organizing to deny communion to politicians who support abortion, until the Vatican voiced its disapproval late last year. A minority of Catholic voters, 36.7%, disagreed and reported that politicians who are not in line with church teaching on abortion should get out of line for communion. A near majority, however, 49.3%, said that politics should not interfere with a believer partaking of the Eucharist.
The president hardly ever misses Mass.
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Philip Wegmann is a writer for RealClearPolitics.
Photo “Joe Biden” by The White House. Background Photo “St. Andrew’s Catholic Church” by Joe Ravi. CC BY-SA 3.0.