Remember: Right Wing Media is a Lie Machine

…and that includes right wing Catholic media. Don’t fall for the hype.

Take, f’rinstance, the claim that the Church is overrun with Catholics champing at the bit to excommunicate Biden:

Conservative media was recently buzzing with headlines proclaiming that huge majorities of American Catholics think President Joe Biden, a Catholic, should be denied Communion because of his pro-choice policy position.

The Federalist proclaimed “Majority Of Church-Going Catholics Believe Biden Should Not Receive Communion”; National Review asserted “Majority of Church-Going Catholics Say Pro-Abortion Politicians Shouldn’t Receive Communion”; and The Washington Examiner warned “Bishops beware: 74% say no Communion for Biden.”

But there are big problems with these headlines and the poll that produced them. For one, CatholicVote.org, the right-wing Catholic group that conducted the poll, did not actually ask respondents what the bishops should do about Biden given his stance on abortion, but rather what decision “public officials” should make for themselves when they publicly disagree with church teaching.

Had the words “Biden” and “abortion” been in the question, the results may have looked quite different (as they do in other polling).

Second, the pollsters engaged in the discredited practice of priming, by asking a series of leading questions prior to the main one. The survey, in other words, was poorly designed in a way that would surely maximize the number of respondents agreeing with CatholicVote’s favored finding.

Finally, the sample is far from representative of the population of church-going Catholics when compared, for example, to other recent surveys conducted by EWTN or the Knights of Columbus. It is a much wealthier, more educated and more suburban group than one would expect from a truly random or representative sample. This may again partially explain why its results are vastly different from what Pew found just a couple of months ago. (Namely, that U.S. Catholics are divided by political party about the issue of Biden and Communion).

It is obvious why the poll was commissioned, given the comments by CatholicVote.org’s president Brian Burch, who noted: “This polling data should bolster the confidence of Catholic bishops. … The data is very clear: Bishops have an obligation to act.”

But if Burch wanted to know if observant Catholics think the bishops should deny Biden and pro-choice politicians Communion, why didn’t the poll he commissioned just ask this question? It is not as though the pollsters were shy about referring to the bishops elsewhere, because there are many other questions specifically about what bishops should do.

The survey’s use of priming, which is eschewed by nearly all professional polling organizations because it biases any survey’s results, is clear.

For example, the CatholicVote.org poll asked if respondents know that the “Catholic Church has long taught that certain issues are of grave moral importance, such as abortion.” It followed by asking whether “Catholic bishops should speak out when a powerful Catholic publicly advocates for a grave moral evil?” and whether “a Catholic bishop is failing to do his job as a bishop if he doesn’t speak up about grave moral evils?” It went on like this for more than 10 questions until the survey arrived at its apparent purpose.

Even despite the priming and nebulous phrasing, the results are less eye-popping than suggested.

While it is true that 74% of respondents agreed at some level that “Catholic public officials who disagree with their Church on serious or grave matters, should avoid creating confusion and disunity by not presenting themselves for communion,” more than half the sample either disagreed or only “somewhat” agreed.

What could be the cause of this hesitation among even those who otherwise agree? Could it be they are wary about politicizing the Eucharist over polemical issues such as abortion rights?

CatholicVote.org’s Burch anticipated criticism of the poll, but mostly over the sample being narrowly constructed to only include Catholics who attend Mass regularly. This, however, is not the problem. There is nothing wrong with trying to find out what this particular population thinks on important issues regarding the church. The problem is that CatholicVote asked the question in such a way that the results do not support the conclusion that the group is reporting.

When Pew asked a more direct and relevant question about whether specifically “Biden” should be “allowed to receive Communion,” only 40% of weekly Mass attendees said no. That is 34 points lower than what others are now claiming based on CatholicVote’s poll. This massive difference is surely in large part due to the fact that the question of whether an unnamed politician should theoretically present oneself for Communion is not the same as whether the bishops should actually withhold Communion from Biden himself.

CatholicVote’s finding is even more suspect given that the demographics are far from the population averages for observant Catholics, particularly on education and income. It is not necessarily clear in what direction this would bias results. More educated and wealthier citizens are more likely to be pro-choice, but they are also less likely to have abortions, as noted in several surveys.

There may be a modifying effect in which wealthier, educated church-going Catholics are less tolerant of politicians who support positions opposed by the church. In any case, we cannot confidently draw inferences from a small sample to a large population if that sample looks quite different from the population it is meant to represent.

Finally, the survey results grabbing all the attention are hard to reconcile with other findings in the same poll. For example, respondents are also asked if Biden is doing a good job as president. In a poll of observant Catholics who largely think the bishops should deny the president Communion, you might expect his approval numbers to be pretty low. But 56% say he’s doing just fine. Go figure.

Much more here.

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18 Responses

  1. Thank you, Mark. Your articles confirm and expand my understanding of what has happened to the Church. As I agree with you, MAGA is the greatest modern-day threat to the Church.

  2. ”The data is very clear: Bishops have an obligation to act”

    And suddenly the Church is a democracy after all. The leftist dissenting scoundrels were right.

    1. @ Mike

      It’s mostly true for pundits, websites and blogs on both sides: the conclusion is reached before the first word is written, The rest is just a nauseating apologia. Mercy for me and mine, Justice for three and thine.

  3. From the outside, there seems to be a lot of rhetoric coming from the extreme right. Most of it is based in very binary thinking, us vs them. The main battle lines are the first and second amendments, a womans rights over her own body, LGBT issues, welfare and immigration.
    It looks like the support for the far right is on the wane, but a threatened beast can still lash out. A quick visit to such sites as Breitbart will confirm this. The views on LGBT there are particularly nasty. Yet they seem to betray a fear that there is a world outside their bubble that they are not able to process. They will tell us the mysterious agenda is to take over everything. While the rest of us realise that, according to data gathered, only 5% of the population fall under the LGBT banner. And all they want is equality and a little respect for all their troubles.

    The other problem is that the far right have barricaded themselves in and are not even willing or able to enter into any sort of dialogue.

    1. @ Chris

      The right/alt-right/extreme right have barricaded themselves in because they don’t belive you seek dialogue, and they are probably right. Where would you be willing to make major concessions with regards to the issues you mention?

      1. @ arteveide

        “ The right/alt-right/extreme right have barricaded themselves in because they don’t belive you seek dialogue, ”

        Mirror mirror mirror.

        I do intend to answer your inquiry from yesterday by the way, but I don’t have time right now.

      2. I do not believe dialogue is always a worthwhile goal. Debating flat-Earthers, for example, is a mistake. Keeping that in mind, it should not sound surprising when I say that I have a long list of issues on which I am willing to educate Trump supporters, but not debate them. Biden won his election, global warming is real, LGBTQ people deserve equal protection, vaccines are good. Etc.

        Does that mean I’m just as bad as them? No, because of one critical difference: my beliefs are supported by evidence.

      3. @ Joel

        Well, if you’re ever looking for an answer to the question why the right is yearning for someone who ”fights”, you have the answer. I don’t think they’re particularly good at it yet, though.

      4. Major concessions? I am talking about an ever shrinking hard core of extremists here. Ones that are too blind to see that their saviour Trump does not care a single bit about them. A bit like the ‘god’ they worship, the one who ignores the words of Jesus.
        It is very difficult to even discuss any issues with them, when they will make NO CONCESSIONS. It is even more difficult when there are so many conspiracy theories floating around their midsts. When Trump dies, his murder by the deep state will be added. For an obese man in his late 70s or early 80s if he gets there.
        The alt right think that most things any Democrat, or indeed the RINOs, do are part of a nefarious plan to take over the world.

  4. Read Guns morning that your bishops said there’s not going to be a policy on politicians and communion. I wonder if a few phone calls from Rome stopped this from going any further. The Pope is a sovereign leader, and likely doesn’t want to unnecessarily piss off other heads of state.

    1. @ Benjamin

      Perhaps, but I think we also have to keep in mind that all the huffing and puffing from Catholic political partisans, whether Dem of GOP, is just that: hot air. Most texts coming from any Catholic Bishop’s Conference tend to be nuanced to the point of utter woolliness. And this is probably for the best.

      1. From what I understand–I’m an outisder so this may be incorrect–but the various national councils of bishops really don’t have any ‘hard’ authority aside from approving which translation of the liturgy parishes use, right? Other than that, the hierarchy goes
        priest–>bishop–>archbishop–>Vatican–>Pope Francis….with the USCCB not really being a formal part of the hierarchy? So a bishop who disagreed with such a decision could just ignore it and permit Biden communion, anyway.

      2. @ Benjamin

        I’m a Catholic but not a US citizen, so a bit of an outsider as well. I’m also not a specialist in Canon law, or an insider to any Bishop’s Conference, so take what I say as just the personal opinion of a layman.

        I think the Vatican, in the matter of communion, would stress the local Bishop’s autonomy. In that sense, it would probably object to nationwide formal rules in the matter. Now, I don’t think there ever was any danger of a document saying ”these nasty Democrats will be denied communion” or ”none shall enter lest he or she publicly abjures legal abortion”. If that happened, the Vatican *would* intervene.

        That being said, I think almost all bishops are a bit annoyed at the disconnect between Biden’s public Catholicism and his support for legal abortion. I think they want to avoid any perception that Biden speaks for the Church.

        PS: you made it clear in almost every post that you’re not ”one of us”, which makes me curious of course. What is your faith or church, if any?

      3. @ Benjamin

        I’m sorry that I couldn’t answer your question with regard to hierarchy. I’m not qualified to do so, But I think you’re correct when stressing the importance of Bishops and their autonomy within the worldwide church.

        Can. 369 A diocese is a portion of the people of God which is entrusted to a bishop for him to shepherd with the cooperation of the presbyterium, so that, adhering to its pastor and gathered by him in the Holy Spirit through the gospel and the Eucharist, it constitutes a particular church in which the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and operative.

        Using a military analogy, a Bishopric is a division, the lowest organisational unit that can operate with full autonomy and possessing all the necessary tools to do so.

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