The ever useful Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has released a new survey. The focus falls on attitudes toward the recent push by the Catholic Bishops to highlight the threats posed to religious liberty.
Results aren’t too surprising. If you’re a Catholic and have heard about the concerns surrounding the HHS contraceptive mandate, you’re more likely to agree with the bishops (56%) than if you’re an atheist (8%). If you go to Mass frequently, you’re more likely to agree (68%) than if you don’t go frequently (49%). If you’re a Catholic who agrees with the bishops that there are threats to religious liberty in current policies, then you’re likely to support Romney (60% to 34% for Obama), and if you don’t you’re in Obama’s camp (78% to 19%).
In sum: if you’re going to church regularly, the bishops’ message resonates. This includes Evangelicals (55% of those who heard of the bishops’ protests agree, while 31% disagree). Meanwhile, if you don’t go to church or are a liberal Protestant—or if you’re inclined to support Obama in any case, you are much less likely to be troubled.
As I said, not surprising. However there are some interesting nuances. First, 41% of Catholics who call themselves Democrats agree with the bishops about threats to religious liberty. That’s a much higher percentage than Democrats more generally (only 28% of all Democrats agree with the bishops). There is a less dramatic but significant margin among Catholic independents (54% agree with the bishops as compared to 40% of all independents). Whether this will move the needle one or two percentage points in the tally in November is an interesting question. This survey suggests that it won’t.
There is another interesting set of results. Concerns about religious liberty have become a partisan issue. Republicans largely agree with the bishops’ protest (62% to 23%), while Democrats are mirror opposites, largely disagreeing (62% to 28%). This fits with a larger trend that I have been following. The Democratic Party is becoming the secular party, while the Republican Party, although less pure, is increasingly the religious party. Douglas Laycock, a prominent liberal defender of religious liberty, has expressed concern about this trend. He worries that as religion become associated with one party, our robust constitutional protections of religious liberty will be threatened. The Left will treat the churches the way the Right has come to treat the universities: as partian institutions to be attacked. That’s a legitimate worry that I also share.
Finally, the survey asks respondents about their views of the leadership of the Catholic Church. Good news here. In 2002, in the wake of the sex scandals, 51% of Catholics said that they were very satisfied or satisfied with the leadership of American bishops. This poll reports that 70% answer in the affirmative today.