Pew study: Catholics are independent thinkers ready to participate in the political process

by Dawn Cherie Araujo

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The Pew Research Center on Monday released a survey looking at the changing political views of American Christians. While broadly speaking, the survey found an increasing desire for religion to play a role in politics across American Christianity, among Catholics, it found an independently thinking group more ready to participate in the political process than in recent years.

First, most white Catholics (53 percent) are Republicans or at least Republican-leaning, which has been the case since 2010. In the poll, 39 percent of white Catholics said they are Democrats or Democrat-leaning. Hispanic Catholics are more liberal than their white counterparts, with 67 percent identifying with the Democratic Party.

But if you think Catholics' political affiliation would allow you to pare them down to cookie-cutter conservative voters, you would be wrong.

On some issues -- immigration, for instance -- Catholics were on target with conservative talking points. In fact, 57 percent of Catholics said they thought the GOP did not represent their views on illegal immigration because they thought the party was too liberal on the issue, that is, too willing to grant legal status to undocumented immigrants.

Sixty-two percent of Catholics said they want members of Congress to have strong religious beliefs, and 61 percent view the declining influence of religion on American culture as a negative trend. Furthermore, since 2010, Catholics have become increasingly more likely to characterize the Obama administration as unfriendly toward religion, while 33 percent of Catholics say they are discriminated against by other Americans.

However, on other issues, Catholics expressed either ambivalent or liberal views. Of note, Catholics were split on the ideal size of the government; 47 percent of Catholics wanted a smaller government, while 48 percent wanted more government services.

But the biggest departure from the conservative politics perhaps comes on the issue of same-sex marriage. About half (52 percent) of Catholics said same-sex marriage should be legal, and 67 percent of Catholics said the Democratic Party was doing a good job of representing their views on the issue, with most dissenters saying the party was too conservative.

For the first time, Pew Research asked respondents whether vendors providing wedding-related services should be required to offer services to same-sex couples. While 49 percent of all respondents said they should be required to do so, 57 percent of Catholics said it should be required. When asked if homosexual behavior was sinful, 49 percent of Catholics said no while 44 percent said yes. Conversely, among white evangelicals, the pillar of the American conservatism, 82 percent said homosexual behavior was sinful.

What this means for November's midterm elections, in which the Senate is up for grabs, remains unclear.

According to the survey, more Catholics intend to vote this year than they did for the 2010 midterms, and 48 percent said they had already given "quite a lot" of thought to the elections. And Catholics (along with all registered voters) were pretty clear on what will be important to them in the midterms: terrorism, the economy, and health care. Yet political pundits have designated 2014 a year without a cause, since neither party has been able to create a cohesive theme.

But when and if they do create a narrative for the election, both parties would perhaps do well to better articulate their position through a faith lens if they want to attract religiously affiliated voters, an increasing number -- both liberal and conservative -- of which don't think faith plays a big enough role in American politics.

"The public's appetite for influence in politics," the poll's researchers write, "is increasing in part because those who continue to identify with religion ... have become significantly more supportive of churches and other houses of worship speaking out about political issues and political leaders talking about religion."

[Dawn Cherie Araujo is a staff writer for Global Sisters Report. Her email address is Follow her on Twitter: @Dawn_Cherie.]

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