Catholics' Presidential Pick Differs by Ethnicity, Religiosity

Catholics' Presidential Pick Differs by Ethnicity, Religiosity

by Frank Newport

Catholics overall are evenly split between Obama and Romney

PRINCETON, NJ -- Catholic voters in the United States are evenly split in their support for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney for president, mirroring the national trend. However, Hispanic Catholics -- about 18% of the total group of Catholic voters -- are overwhelmingly likely to support Obama over Romney, while a majority of non-Hispanic white Catholics support Romney.

Vote Preferences Among Catholics, April 11-30, 2012

Obama led Romney by one percentage point, 46% to 45%, among the more than 8,000 registered voters interviewed as part of Gallup Daily tracking conducted April 11-30. Among the 1,915 Catholics interviewed during that time, support for Obama and Romney was almost the same, with 46% support for Obama and 46% for Romney.

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Catholics' divided preferences at this point contrast with those of the largest religious group in the country, Protestants, whose support swings to Romney by 51% to 41%. The split in Catholics' preferences also differs from the choice among those who identify with another religion or no religion at all, a group that clearly supports Obama, by 58% to 33%.

Hispanic Catholics make up 28% of all Catholics in Gallup's sample and are overwhelmingly Obama supporters, but they are much less likely than non-Hispanic Catholics to be registered to vote. As a result, Hispanics make up only 18% of Catholic voters. This relatively low representation of Hispanic Catholics within the broad spectrum of Catholic voters helps explain why Catholics as a whole are divided, rather than tilting toward Obama.

Religious White Catholics Support Romney; the Nonreligious, Obama

Non-Hispanic white Catholics themselves, who make up 75% of all Catholic registered voters, are far from monolithic in their vote choice. As a general rule in today's political world, the more religious the American, the more likely he or she is to be a Republican and vote for Republican candidates. This rule of thumb is evident among white Catholic voters. Among non-Hispanic white Catholics whom Gallup categorizes as "very religious" or "moderately religious," Romney wins over Obama by 30- and 22-point margins, respectively. Among nonreligious Catholics, Obama wins by 54% to 40%.

Vote Preferences Among Non-Hispanic White Catholics, April 11-30, 2012

Overall Catholic Vote Similar to 2008

The overall Catholic vote so far this year is similar to what it was in 2008, when Gallup's final survey before the election found that Catholics' slim support for Obama over Republican candidate John McCain almost identically matched the overall national vote. In elections prior to 2008, however, Catholics have generally been more Democratic in their voting, including a vote preference for John Kerry over George W. Bush in 2004, and for Al Gore over Bush in 2000. Catholics overwhelmingly voted for Democrat John F. Kennedy over Richard Nixon in the 1960 election, helping make Kennedy the first and, to date, only Catholic to be elected president.

Bottom Line

Catholics constitute almost one in four voters in the U.S. today, making their vote an important target of the Obama and the Romney election campaigns. However, although Catholics as a whole are almost precisely average in their vote choices at this point in the campaign, there are major differences by the ethnicity and religiosity of Catholics that underscore the difficulty of typifying and subsequently targeting an "average" Catholic voter. Hispanic Catholics and nonreligious white Catholics, constituting between them almost four in 10 Catholic voters, strongly support Obama. On the other hand, very and moderately religious white Catholics -- about 56% of all Catholics -- support Romney, although by not as strong a margin.

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Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of Gallup Daily tracking April 11-30, 2012, with a random sample of 1,915 Catholic registered voters, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of Catholic registered voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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