Signs of Hope: Catholic Polling Data and Jeannie Gaffigan

Published October 20, 2020

Here is something that genuinely took me by surprise:

Not so fast: The political preferences of observant Catholics may not be what you think

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.

19 Responses

  1. “ 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.”

    This paragraph resonated with me on so many levels. I have written before that I was involved in the abortion fight in Hawaii 50 years ago. I was still just a young man, and I didn’t even know there was such a thing as abortion. That’s how young and naïve I was. Nevertheless, what impressed me far more than anything were the tactics of the antiabortion crowd, especially their fondness for extremely graphic images of blood and guts. The more bits and blood, the happier they seemed to be. And since Hawaii at that time was a relatively small town mentality in a somewhat larger community that was Honolulu, these people weren’t mysteries. They were also against birth control, sex education, and all kinds of things that might reduce the need for abortion. It was apparent to me even at 19 that they were after power above all else.

    Not surprisingly, when I came out two years later as a young gay man, I saw the same vicious people viciously engaging in the same vicious tactics regarding decidedly not vicious little old me. And over the nearly 50 years since I came out, that has also resonated with me deeply, as I listen to the religious anti-gay Crusaders go into long and graphic descriptions all about my alleged sex life and the things I like to do. Did they say they were long and graphic? The more I experienced them, the more I realize that they got off on all of this. They like talking dirty in the name of the Lord.

    There have been enough of these people caught with her hands down the cookie jar’s pants in the intervening 50 years to make me realize that while they were attempting to deflect attention from themselves with their diatribes and rants, THEY WERE GETTING OFF ON IT. Anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear knows this. (There were rumors about Bob Greene, the former husband of Anita Bryant for quite some time, even before he died. She divorced him saying that divorce was against everything she believed in as a Christian. Apparently not). So not only did they get off on it, they made money on exercising their real, little, personal demons by pretending to exorcise my imaginary ones.

    Ms. Gaffigan nailed it exactly. Spiritual terrorism.

    So my question is this: if Jabba the Trump loses in two weeks, Will the people who have called him God’s chosen one, the most pro-life president in history chosen by the most pro-life God in history to lead the bestest, most goodest and righteousest nation in history towards the paths of righteousness etc. etc. etc. etc.

    WHAT ARE HIS HYPER RELIGIOUS SUPPORTERS GOING TO SAY?

    I can tell you what they’re going to say, because they are already saying it, has so many hyper Christians, not wanting to be a sinking ship, sail away from the rat. “Trump? I really didn’t know him.” The more honest ones will say, but very quietly, the way they are doing it now, “I guess we made a mistake. What were we thinking?“.

    Ya were’nt, Blanche. ya weren’t. But…

    The antiabortion movement will continue on, just like the anti-gay movement has continued on, expounding the same old tropes, lies, cons, false logic, fake facts, despite every single claim that they have been making for the past 50 years being proved wrong, a lie, a con, and fake news. Why? Because there is power, money, dominion, revenge, religious Megalomania (look how God like I am, God loves me and doesn’t love you) in it for them.

    Spiritual terrorism. She nailed it.

  2. I’m one of those people that the EWTN folks like to hide. I saw through the anti-abortion folks in the 80s as a teen. I saw that activism cost a couple of family friends their marriage and family and I saw antisemitic signage at a protest that upset my Jewish colleague. That, plus an encounter at college with a classmate who would constantly harangue about abortion, really turned me off. In the 80s, my Catholic college introduced me to the papal encyclical. I bought a book with a whole wealth of social justice ones for a class I couldn’t take but at least could read and learn the material. To me, it’s not enough to say you are pro-life, the proof is in actions and results. It is in neither US political parties interest to actually do something about abortion. They need it to get votes. The purpose of any political party is to win elections and gain power for its members. So they kick the can down the road. Our politicians are very good at that. Just look at our Founders complicated relationship with our Constitution and slavery. Thomas Jefferson feared his Virginia Tidewater neighbors and northerners just wanted to found a new country, so put their personal opposition to slavery aside.

    In 2016, I watched several episodes of the World Over with Raymond Arroyo. He would always be careful to emphasize the official anti-abortion stance of Republicans, but then go off about the economy. A close friend parroted the libertarian values he espoused so often, as did so many politically inclined conservative Catholics. When I asked her how she could square her antitax and rugged individuality with our need to live in a society of people responsible to and for each other, she admitted she never thought about that. I used the power grid as an example. If no one uses the electric company, how can it keep the grid operational and able to serve our most vulnerable like our elders or those who have disabilities? Again, she hadn’t thought about that.

    I have a son with autism. He will always need help and care. I also work with adults with developmental disabilities. They are vulnerable. We are the first to get cuts in the state budget when we have a shortfall. There’s never enough. The same folks who scream about abortion far too often espouse a kind of economic eugenics. I don’t bother arguing with them anymore. I have dealt with their cruelty and their focus on scoring rhetorical logic points. I struggle to express myself. I know things are not right, my gut and Catholic sensibility tells me so. I attend Mass weekly. I used to go everyday. I have found that the more traditional a person is, the more Republican they are likely to be. That is definitely true online. The smallest minority in the Catholic church has the loudest megaphone, television, radio, and diocesan paper presences. My diocesan paper still gives space to these folks. I don’t consider EWTN to be trustworthy at all. It’s sad. So I choose to watch, to listen and discern. I’ve been cautious in choosing who to affiliate with because I want my children, my spouse and myself to live lives of faith enlivened in our church community. It’s getting harder and harder these days.

    So you are not alone Mark. It’s a good thing that the Catholic church is far larger and more inclusive than the visible online community seems to demonstrate. I’m glad most of my life is lived offline. I think that’s true for the vast majority of us. My parish is so much better than what I see on EWTN and online. Take heart and have courage. Don’t worry about the swine you throw pearls to. They’ve shut their eyes and ears and can’t hear above their sound of their own voices and awesomeness (at least in their own minds and echo chambers).

    Keep the faith. You are not alone.

    1. Kate, beautifully said. I too am one of the people not accounted for in the EWTN counts.

      As a mother of a large family, I walk a very personal pro-life walk. I too saw right through Trump’s pro-life mumbo jumbo immediately. When he came out as “pro-life” the first thing I heard him start talking about was wanting to imprison women who opted to have abortions. My spidey senses (for lack of a better word) started burning brightly. My first thought was, people aren’t going to take him serious are they? He is totally out of touch with what the pro-life movement stands for. Doesn’t he know that women are most often victims in this too?

      Sheesh! Boy was I wrong… I brought it up in a conversation with one of our pro-life friends, and much to my dismay, she actually jumped on the bandwagon agreeing with Trump. I’m glad there were enough people who stood up against that idea – at least I assume since it hasn’t come to fruition. Can you imagine?

      I have to be honest, I’ve been going through the process of an awakening and trying to figure out exactly where I fit into the Catholic faith now. This divisiveness is not what I signed up for when I converted…

      My husband also happens to be an immigrant. So, within my personal journey of running away from Trump, I have to say it was downright horrifying to watch as Trump brashly glommed onto immigrants as the scapegoat for all of the U.S.’s problems. He literally used the heads of immigrants as his stepping stone to power with his we need to build a wall because “Mexicans are rapists and murders” rhetoric. Gah! I seem to remember a pretty grisly man who did used similar tactics once upon a time leading up to WWII…

      By virtue of my husband’s nationality we are heavily involved within the immigrant population here in our area. I have had SO many conversations with our friends who’ve revealed the horrific comments and actions that various community members have unleashed on them since the Trump era began it’s reign of terror. The commentary comes straight out of a Trump rally playbook. It’s horrifying/embarrassing to admit, but I’ve personally seen some of it come directly out of the mouths of some of my local Catholic brothers and sisters.

      We live in interesting times. God save us from Trumpism, I pray we will soon recover from this Catholic façade.

  3. I think she also nailed it by saying the obvious about how these “pro-life” warriors talk when it comes to race, minorities, structures of power, and refugees.

    Pope Francis nails it in one sentence.

    The only part that made me cringe was once again hearing the reminder that I no longer am a member of the “Gosh darnnit, oh my goodness, heavens to Betsy” ladies. (Hangs head in shame). I started saying doo-doo words just to prove that the people who won’t use them due to their daintiness (but are fully able to talk sh*t about refugees) remind me of the pearl and pillbox-hat-wearing monstrosities that Flannery O’Conner so vividly described. I was once ordered from the room for quoting “grab ’em by the p***y”. Most of my family doesn’t use gutter language. My father was given an exemption on rare occasions to punctuate manly rage. I now cuss on *principle*, and if provoked am willing to talk candidly on all manner of subjects that the dainty ones consider unseemly and unlady like.

    BTW-I’m pretty sure “the Church Lady” from SNL was invented by my Opus Dei friend’s Harvard educated son.Hahaha. Everyone can see through that act. I’ll be blunt: the Trump-voting Church ladies are a dying breed. They might think they are saving their great white civilization with their supposedly “reformed” leader (My mother says that he is now “deeply religious” AND “has done more for the poor than any other president in history” NOT KIDDING) but at the end of the day, the most arresting fact of all is that most of them are about to meet and greet the **Great Equalizer**. It might now go as planned.

  4. A Catholic who receives thd Body and Blood of Jesus Christ cannot then vote and support a man who will permit and expand the destruction of the body and blood of the innocent. You cannot serve God and mamon
    Biden’s policies are evil and to vote for him is to share in that evil.

    1. @ the so called rev

      First, Honey, it is Mammon. Mamon is your ma, haitian french version

      Second, you might wantto explain what these policies are so that we’ll know, unless it’s a secret. It probably is, because as far as I can tell, Mr. Biden supports healthcare for all, while let us say, you don’t.

      Third, since you’re obviously a Bible believing Christian, please permit this atheist to instruct you in what the Bible says.

      First, is he the “lawless one“? That would be second Thessalonians chapter 2 verses eight and nine.

      Second, is he the “boaster“, speaking of his own greatness. That would be Daniel chapter 7 and chapter 8. That’s all he talks about. The only topic he talks about almost as much is his megalomania, because everyone is so unfair to him because he is so special.

      Third, is he the “arrogant one“ that would be revelations 13. Arrogant doesn’t begin to describe it. Everybody is saying it, no one knows it better than him, not even the experts.

      Fourth, is he a pathological “liar“? That would be John 8:44 and Daniel 8:12. 20,000 or so to date, and those are just the ones we know about.

      Fifth, is he the “builder of towers“? That would be generous, since they usually go bankrupt, but you can find that one in genesis 10 and 11.

      Sixth, does he routinely break treaties? You can find that information in your daily newspaper, as well as Daniel 9:27.

      Seventh does he demand worship constantly? That would be second Thessalonians chapter 2. And what would apply is not the word constantly, but whatever more than constantly is.

      Shall I go on? I have a lot more biblical points I could make, because us unbelievers know your Bible far better than most believers do. Allowing the Bible itself to instruct me, As far as I can tell Trump is the antichrist, although as Mark says, he’s the dime store version of it. Because it looks to me like your support of Trump means that you support the antichrist. But that doesn’t surprise me, either. When the republican party became a religion, and when religion became a political party, it was already clear that you had sold yourselves out toMammon, Or the dimestore version of him. I have been watching you so-called Christians for 50 years, and if that isn’t helpful, I don’t know what it is.

      So, shall I go on quoting the Bible to prove to you that the man you love so much is the antichrist? And believe me, I have a lot more biblical quotations that describe him.

      Or shall we just let you slink off to your whited sepulcher so that you can continue to revival in slander (Corinthians) and pretend that you’re more righteous than anyone else.

      1. Sorry the word in the last few lines wasn’t supposed to be helpful, but hell. AutoCorrect is the other antichrist.

        Second, in the last sentence, it is revile and slander, not revival in slander, though given what you had to say about Mr. Biden, that certainly seems appropriate.

        Bye.

    2. Except for one thing: neither candidate is “pro-life”. Neither party is “pro-life”. Actions and results speak louder than words. The president and his political party may say the right words, but the results speak for themselves. The president and Congress could have passed anti-abortion legislation in the years their party controlled both branches- the legislative and executive, but they didn’t.

      Another thing. I am pro-life. I was told and pressured to end my first pregnancy because the triple-screen test indicated my baby had Downs Syndrome. I declined risky, invasive testing because of the risk to my child. He was fine and is currently in college. My youngest has autism as I mentioned before. My pregnancies nearly cost me my life. I came from a large family and expected to have one too. Obviously, the Lord had other plans. I have permanent health issues as a result. I have spilled my blood on two delivery room floors. Don’t talk to me about evil and innocents. There are several presidential policies over the last four years that cry to heaven for justice.

      1. Oh, and my eldest would be fine even with Downs. I loved him from the first as I did my other child. I was a teacher before I started working with adults with developmental disabilities. I have an entire city of children that I feel responsible to and deeply care for, even today. Believe me, empty words and promises can’t hold a candle to that.

  5. We try to attend daily Mass; out parish streams daily Mass, as two Masses on Sunday, and as special Masses as well. We despise tRump and would never vote for him nor his enablers.

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