WASHINGTON – A new poll reveals that Catholic voters, generally the middle ground in the religious political debate, are moving toward the political right, mirroring what pollsters believe is the attitude of the general population during this year's mid-term election.
New numbers, released by the Public Religion Research Institute Tuesday, show that 49 percent of Catholic voters, both Latino and white, say they are likely to vote Republican.
"White Catholics seem mostly like to throw their support behind the GOP," said Gregory Smith, senior researcher at the Pew Forum, at a press briefing Wednesday.
And, as researchers believe that Catholics, who make up a quarter of the population, will mirror the rest of the country this election season, a boost in Catholic support may be good news for Republicans in more ways than one. Smith said that Catholics share the same stance on values as does the average American.
"American Catholics considered as a whole tend to look like Americans like a whole," he said.
The survey, conducted last month, further reveals that no more than four in 10 of any white Christian group say they will vote for or are leaning towards the Democratic candidate in their election district. Seventy-one percent of white evangelical voters and 55 percent of white mainline Protestant voters favor the GOP candidate.
When asked about specific issues, a majority of the 3,013 surveyed adults say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supported health care reform. Catholics, more so than evangelical Christians, are more likely to favor a candidate that supported health care reform. Catholics, like most Americans, are also more likely to support gay marriage. Nearly half of both Latino and white Catholics favor same-sex marriage over civil unions and no legal recognition.
Meanwhile, the beliefs of white evangelicals and black Protestants have in general stayed the same. At 58 percent, evangelicals overwhelmingly believe no legal recognition should be given to same-sex marriage. The majority of black Protestants are also opposed to legal recognition.
There were some surprising differences, however, among the faith groups and their values. Most white evangelicals (63 percent) say they are less likely to vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights. In comparison, only 29 percent of black Protestants, 24 percent of white mainline Protestants and 38 percent of white Catholics say the same. Overall, slightly more American voters (35 percent) say they would be less likely to back a candidate who supports abortion rights.
Additionally, at 43 percent, evangelicals have the smallest percentage of members who support an increase in minimum wage. Over 85 percent of black Protestants support an increase in minimum wage.
And while evangelicals are divided on the issue of immigration reform (48 percent favor and 50 percent oppose), a majority across the rest of the religious groups support reform. Nearly two-thirds of black Protestants, 52 percent of mainline Protestants and white Catholics, and 87 percent of Latino Catholics favor immigration reform with a provision for citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Also parting from white evangelicals on many issues is the younger generation of Christians. Young evangelicals and Protestants join with Catholic believers in supporting gay marriage, PRRI CEO and Founder Robert Jones pointed out.
"Younger Catholics and younger Protestants are more likely to support gay and lesbian rights," Jones noted.
A wide generation gap is also seen with the general American population. Younger Americans are about half as likely as older Americans to say that America is and has always been a Christian nation (26 percent to 53 percent). More than one in four young adults say that America has never been a Christian nation.
PRRI statistics are part of the American Values Survey. The survey is a national public opinion poll of American attitudes on religion values and politics. The 2010 survey is the third biennial AVS.