Signs of Hope: Catholic Polling Data and Jeannie Gaffigan
Here is something that genuinely took me by surprise:
Would it surprise you to learn that among highly observant Catholics, Joe Biden is as popular as Donald Trump and trusted as much as the president to handle issues such as religious freedom, Supreme Court nominations and even the abortion issue?
This is exactly what a recent EWTN/Real Clear Opinion poll of 1,212 Catholic voters finds, though you can be forgiven for having missed this in the reporting of the survey. EWTN itself chose not to highlight these findings, opting to showcase a more predictable observation that Trump and the GOP are more popular among faithful Catholics than among less committed ones. This is technically true but obscures inconvenient facts for those who think that “real” Catholics are by and large Republicans and that “cafeteria” or cultural Catholics are mostly Democrats.
EWTN’s reporting of its poll results (subsequently picked up by other outlets) notes that among daily communicants and those who attend Mass more than once a week, Trump leads Biden by fairly large margins. What they do not report, however, is that so few respondents to the survey fall into these categories, that these statistics are essentially useless.
For example, only 1% of those polled attend daily Mass. In a survey of 1,200 people that means that EWTN is highlighting a finding based on a dozen respondents. The margin of error for such a statistic is nearly +/-30. Similarly only 4% of respondents go to Mass more than once a week, so that particular figure is based on a sample of fewer than 50 people (with a margin of error of about +/-14). With samples this small and margins of error this large, we cannot describe the preferences of these groups with any reasonable level of confidence
For polls like this to tell us something meaningful about the Catholic population, the sample has to be reasonably large. This is why (one assumes) EWTN collapses the categories in the cross tabs of the results that they make available for download. Here we can observe the views of Catholics attending Mass at least weekly (339 respondents — with a margin of error of +/-6) and those who believe in “all or most” of the church’s teachings (592 respondents — with a margin of error of +/-5).
The results are striking. When looking at Catholics who attend Mass weekly or more, Biden and Trump are tied at 44%. For those Catholics who believe in all or most of church teachings, Trump has a three-point advantage, but this is well within the margin of error. More bad news for Trump is that among observant Catholics, two out of five not only disapprove of him, but disapprove of him “strongly.”
This is really striking to me and a great sign of hope that the Sheep know the Shepherd’s Voice and are not all being hypnotized into drinking the MAGA Koolaid. As the piece concludes:
What is perhaps most remarkable is that on the core issues to religious conservatives — abortion, religious liberty and Supreme Court nominations — there is no statistically significant difference between which candidate observant Catholics trust more.
Conservative and Republican Catholics have made great efforts to convince voters that their main (if not only) priorities should be those issues considered “non-negotiable” according to church teaching. This typically puts the emphasis on abortion and religious liberty, same-sex marriage, stem-cell research and euthanasia. Since the Republican Party is clearly more in line with Catholic doctrine in these areas, it is reasonable to expect that many observant Catholics would look more favorably on the GOP than the Democratic Party, all things being equal.
But if EWTN’s poll is to be believed, Catholic Republicans have much work to do even among the most faithful, and Catholic Democrats have reason to be optimistic that they too have strength in numbers.
It puts me in mind of this piece by Jeannie Gaffigan, whom fans of comedian Jim Gaffigan will recognize as his “Shi’ite Catholic” wife. She wrote it in response to the torrent of vicious attacks on her, her family, and her faith that she got from the Usual Suspects when Jim came out against Trump on Twitter:
My faith, family and Catholic education have given me the belief in the innate dignity and worth of every single human being. Human life is sacred, and all humans have equal value. Of course, this means it is wrong to intentionally take a human life under any circumstances, but it is also wrong to disregard human life through racism, unjust social and economic structures, providing inadequate access to health care, wantonly harming the environment, abusing or neglecting anyone—a child, a mother, a father, a grandparent, an immigrant. I am not sure how one thing that harms a life can be weighted more strongly than another, but based on the reaction to Jim’s now-infamous tweetstorm, it is abundantly clear that there is a segment of the Catholic Church that feels that the single issue of abortion, for lack of a better word, trumps every other evil. Somehow a vote against Mr. Trump has become synonymous with not only being a “bad Catholic” but ultimately, being complicit in murder. And even worse, the murder of “society’s most vulnerable.”
The strangers who attacked me on Twitter using words and phrases like “baby killer” and “infanticide” and who even sent me ghastly photos of aborted fetuses did not have the effect they probably intended. Anyone who knows me or knows of me knows where I stand on life. I would, however, offer a gentle suggestion that anyone showing graphic photographs that depict dead bodies cease and desist immediately. Aside from it being utterly disrespectful of human life, some of us have lost babies prematurely at birth, and these images can be a form of spiritual terrorism. I do not negotiate with terrorists.
These misguided extremists are not the ones who made me stop and examine my own beliefs. What challenged me the most as a Catholic were the people that I love and respect who reached out to me privately and suggested that our Catholic faith dictates that, above all, we must vote for the “pro-life” candidate, that I need to “hold my nose and vote for Trump.” They don’t like him. They hate everything else that he stands for, but we just have to vote for him. Maybe their priest, bishop or beehive convinced them Mr. Trump is the “most pro-life president in history,” and they believed it.
I am not writing this to prove them wrong; I assume if you are reading this you have eyes, ears, brains and Google. But in my observation, Mr. Trump is only pro-Mr. Trump. Still, the hardline message from so many whom I love dearly was clear: Real Catholics vote Trump.
How am I supposed to handle that? I went to a Jesuit school, where my education was “guided by a spirituality that seeks justice.” This seemed like a perfect opportunity to dig into my Ignatian roots and examine my conscience.
So I turned to prayer and Scripture, which have gotten me through the roughest days of my life. In meditating on the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and the rosary, I found myself guided to the words and actions of Jesus himself. His commandment of loving our neighbor as ourselves is paramount. But as much as “gentle Jesus” guides us through parables, he consistently challenged powerful leaders. He reserves his harshest words (“hypocrites,” “brood of vipers,” “you fools”) not for known sinners or disbelievers but for self-righteous religious elites at the center of power whose religion had become an idol and whose message was toxic and oppressive.
Has the abortion issue become an idol for some Catholics at the expense of everything else? Of course, Scripture can be misinterpreted—the devil himself quotes from it. I needed to work with a guide to help me discern. Jesus gave the keys of the kingdom to St. Peter, and as Catholics we believe that the keys have been passed down through the popes. I decided to look to Pope Francis.
The pope has had his own strong words for American Catholics in recent months. Following the killing of George Floyd, Francis said in a message to the people of the United States, “We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.” The dignity of the human person extends to all of us created in his image, both in the womb and out of the womb. As a Catholic I desire to support a society that strives to protect every life. Systemic racism in our culture has led to such economic and social inequality that it is virtually impossible to have a “culture of life” without addressing the fact that we have been complicit in a long history of devaluing our fellow human beings based on the color of their skin or the way they came to this country.
Can we really sit in our homes with our private health insurance and judge our neighbors who have nothing? How can we strive to heal the tragedy of abortion without acknowledging the deep wounds and life-threatening crises that drive people to it? How arrogant we are to condemn women of any color living in poverty, faced with the unimaginable and horrific circumstances that would drive them to seek an abortion, without taking a good look at how we have failed them by not offering adequate health care, child care, education and employment opportunities? Do we ever stop to think about how far we are from achieving a “culture of life” in light of the well-documented and video-recorded police brutality against Black Americans? Are refugee children, homeless pregnant women or the prisoners on death row not also “society’s most vulnerable”?
What strikes me about her is what strikes me about the polling data above. I have a friend who reminds me a great deal of Jeannie Gaffigan. She is a sweet, good, honest-hearted, devout Catholic who is not looking for a fight with anybody. She is the neighbor who gets her family to Mass, who gives you a kind phone call when you are feeling sick or blue. She comes by for a cup of tea. She likes a joke. She’s ready with a hug. She enjoys a chat but is not aggressive and tends to hang back and listen when others are talking rather than try to stick her oar in. She avoids conflicts in the Church and does not enjoy talking about politics. When I started loudly warning of Trump several years ago, it was clear that this made her uncomfortable not because she was a Trump supporter, but because her kindness gravitates toward being a peacemaker, not somebody (like me) who enjoys a fight.
I *love* my friend. Absolutely love her. Always have. I do what I do so that she can do what she does, which is nothing less than holding the world together with her her quiet, decent, goodness. And what strikes me about her, like what strikes me about Jeannie Gaffigan, is that in their quiet, decent, good, devout. peacemaking ways, they have (apparently along with a helluva lot of other devout Catholics) had it up to here with the “Vote GOP or the baby get it” guilt manipulation of the MAGA Cult.
Don’t misunderstand. I don’t mean they have been “radicalized” or transformed into raging, angry people. It’s not in their nature to fight evil in that way. I simply mean that they have quietly and with a solidity with roots going down to the core of their being said, “No. I won’t comply” as they set down their teacups and stood up to politely, kindly, and immovably Resist. They aren’t shouters. You won’t find them in the streets. They will be too busy bringing a nice apple crumble to their sick neighbor or lighting a candle at the local parish.
But they’ve had it. They don’t swear or use curse words. They say things like, “Gosh darn it. This *is* malarkey!” They listen to the Voice of the Shepherd and know in their bones that it is a sinful misuse of the priesthood to try to muscle the Faithful into violating their consciences by manipulating a vote for Trump out of them. They won’t do it (darn it!) and you can’t make them.
And the attempt to paint such people as “radicals” or “Communists” or “threats to America” or “apostates” is an insult to their Good Shepherd, who sees and remembers.
May He bless and honor such good people and may their prayers and attempts to do his will be blessed with victory over this poisonous MAGA cult on November 3.