Most Catholics vote for Obama, but Latinos and whites divided

Post-election polling shows U.S. Roman Catholics were as likely to favor President Barack Obama as the general population in 2012, continuing the Catholic record as the bellwether of the popular vote.

Catholics – the country’s largest religious group with one-quarter of the population – have supported the winner of the popular vote in every election since 1972.

Reuters/Ipsos exit polling found that 51 percent of Catholics favored President Barack Obama, compared with 48 percent for Republican contender Mitt Romney. A report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life had a similar finding, with 50 percent of Catholics for Obama and 48 percent for Romney, the same as the popular vote in the general population.

Hispanic Catholics were far more likely to favor Obama – by 76 percent to 23 percent – than white Catholics, who favored Romney by 56 percent to 43 percent, according to the Reuters poll. Black Protestants favored Obama by 97 percent to 3 percent, while white Protestants favored Romney by 69 percent compared to 29 percent for Obama.

“When you talk about Catholics, there are really two Catholic votes, the white vote and the Hispanic vote, which look starkly different,” said Robert Jones, chief executive of the Public Religion Research Institute. He said exit polls found that overall, voters were focused mainly on economic issues.

This election year saw strong advocacy on the conservative side of some issues by Catholic bishops, which caused discomfort for liberal Catholics. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops protested the Obama administration’s health care mandate which requires Catholic hospitals and colleges to carry insurance that provides free contraception as a violation of religious liberty.

Church leaders also protested against same-sex marriage, which was on the ballot in four states. Some individual bishops took exceptionally strong positions, with Springfield, Illinois Bishop Thomas Paprocki warning his flock that if they voted for someone who promotes abortion their souls would be in jeopardy.

The bishops’ stands did not seem to have much influence on the vote, said Jones. Catholic attitudes on the healthcare mandate were unchanged in March and September polls, despite advocacy by church leaders. [More]