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New poll shows Catholic divide over 2020 election tracks with deeper rifts

By Matt Hadro for CNA


Washington D.C., Feb 24, 2020 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- As Democratic primary voters choose which candidate will oppose President Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, the second in a series of landmark polls shows Catholic voters are sharply divided over politics, and over issues of faith and morality.

A RealClear Opinion Research poll, sponsored by EWTN News, was released Monday showing Catholics equally divided over whether they will vote for or against Trump in November.

“In, kind of, ‘the broad frame,’ the Catholic vote is the American vote,” John Della Volpe, director of polling for RealClearOpinion Research, told EWTN News Nightly on Monday.

A poll of 1,512 Catholic registered voters conducted from Jan. 28 through Feb. 4, 2020, the EWTN News/RealClearOpinion Research poll surveyed Catholics on issues such as their preferred presidential candidate, political party affiliations, and matters of morality.

Monday’s poll is the second in a series of four polls that EWTN News has commissioned for the 2020 election year. The first poll, by RealClear Opinion Research in partnership with EWTN News, surveyed more than 2,000 registered voters–more than half of them identifying as Catholic–from Nov. 15-21.

That poll, published in December, found various Democratic presidential candidates beating President Trump in the Catholic vote in hypothetical head-to-head contests.

Monday’s poll, just nine months before the 2020 presidential election, reveals a polarized Catholic community.

Politically, more Catholics believe the country is on the “wrong track” than “generally headed in the right direction,” 47% to 41%.

President Trump receives a 47% net approval rating from Catholics overall, with a 53% net disapproval.

Catholics are equally divided as to whether or not they will vote for or against Trump. 46% say they will either certainly vote for the incumbent or that there is a “good chance” they will do so; an equal percentage say they would “never” vote for Trump or that it is “unlikely” they would do so.

The remaining 8% of Catholics who say it is “possible” they would vote for Trump.

Those numbers change dramatically within a small subset of Catholics–18% of those surveyed–who say they believe all of what the Church teaches and that these teachings are “reflected in how I live my life.”

With that group, Trump enjoys a 63% net approval rating. Two-thirds, 67%, say they will certainly or likely vote for Trump in November.

Three-quarters say they vote “all the time” in federal elections, compared to 58% of Catholics overall. And a vast majority, 83%, say they will “definitely” vote in the 2020 general election, with another 10% saying they will “probably” vote.

A significant portion, 41%, of the “devout Catholic” subset are Hispanic Catholics.

The Catholic vote normally mirrors the general vote in presidential elections, and the responses in the recent poll match Hillary Clinton’s popular vote victory in 2016.

For those Catholics who voted in the 2016 presidential elections, 48% say they voted for Clinton, while 46% voted for Donald Trump, and 6% voted for “someone else.”

Among Catholics who accept all of the Church’s teachings, however, Trump won them handily in 2016 by a margin of 60% to 34%.

The Catholic divide also reveals itself in hypothetical head-to-head matchups between Trump and various Democratic presidential contenders. Those matchups provide a general sense of where candidates stand in relation to each other, but because they are not adjusted to factor in the electoral college, they are not predictive of election day outcomes.

Among Catholics overall, Trump lost each hypothetical match-up with Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, and Michael Bloomberg. Biden enjoyed the largest margin of victory with Catholics, beating Trump 51% to 40%; Buttigieg saw the narrowest margin of victory with only 44% of the Catholic vote to Trump’s 40%.


Within the “devout” subset of Catholics, however, Trump beat each of the five Democratic contenders handily, by anywhere from 16 to 22-point margins. He led current Democratic front-runner Bernie Sanders by a 16-point margin in this group of Catholics, 55% to 39%.

Divides among Catholics are also manifested in their moral positions and religious practices.

Overall, only 56% of U.S. Catholics say they accept “all or most” of the Church’s teachings.

Just more than one-third of Catholics, 35%, attend Mass weekly, or more frequently.

Other Catholics, 14%, attend Mass “once or twice a month,” or “a few times a year,” 25%. While nearly half of Catholics, 49%, say they pray every day, only 27% pray the rosary weekly or more.

More than eight-in-ten, 81%, Catholics believe in Hell, and 78% believe in the devil.

Catholics widely support the death penalty, 57% to 29%, despite a 2018 proclamation from Pope Francis that the practice is “inadmissible.” Only 36% of Catholics say they knew that the Church had previously defended the legitimate use of the death penalty and that Pope Francis “has declared it inadmissible.”

Despite the Church’s condemnation of abortion, euthanasia, and physician-assisted suicide as “intrinsically evil,” a majority of Catholics say those things are not intrinsically evil. Only 47% of Catholics believe that abortion is intrinsically evil, 45% say euthanasia is intrinsically evil, and 41% believe physician-assisted suicide is intrinsically evil.


The 18% of Catholics who say they believe all of what the Church teaches are far more likely than other Catholics to attend Mass and pray frequently, and to believe abortion, euthanasia, and physician-assisted suicide are intrinsically evil.

More than seven-in-ten Catholics  among that group attend Mass weekly or more frequently. 71% pray daily, and 62% say they pray the rosary at least once a week.

The vast majority, 71%, think that abortion is intrinsically evil, 70% say physician-assisted suicide is intrinsically evil, and 64% believe the same of euthanasia.

Catholics who say they believe all of what the Church teaches are slightly more likely than all Catholics to have a graduate degree. They are much more likely to have attended a religious college or university than a secular school for their undergraduate studies.

They are less likely to be white than are Catholics overall, and are more likely to be black or Hispanic. While 37% of Catholics overall identified as Hispanic, 41% of those accepting all the Church’s teachings identified as Hispanic.

Although most Catholics who say they accept Church teaching believe abortion is intrinsically evil, that subset is still divided—as are Catholics overall—about the legality of abortion.

More than one-quarter of that group, 27%, think abortion “should always be legal,” and 15% think it should only late-term abortions should be legal. Only 23% think abortion should always be illegal.

Among all Catholics, 20% say it should always be legal and 31% say it should be legal except for late-term abortions. One-third say it should illegal except in cases of rape, incest, or where the life of the mother is at stake, and 11% say it should be illegal.

Catholics overall are also divided on religious freedom questions. 45% say that religious business owners should not be required to serve a same-sex wedding against their beliefs, while 40% say they should have to do so in spite of their beliefs.

Catholics are evenly split on the matter of religious adoption agencies being forced to match children with same-sex couples, with 41% saying they should not be forced to do so and 40% saying they should be forced to do so.

Regarding the employment of persons who do not follow Church teaching, Catholics said that parochial schools should not be required to employ them, 41% to 36%.

However, on the matter of people identifying as a different gender than their biological sex, the majority—55%—said they should have to use the bathroom or locker room of their biological sex at birth, and not their gender identity, while just 30% said they should be able to use the facilities of their gender identity.

Among Catholics accepting of all the Church’s teachings, they were more likely to favor the religious freedom of business owners and adoption agencies on these questions.

More than half, 57%, defended the rights of religious business owners to chooose whether to serve same-sex weddings. 50% said that adoption agencies should not have to match children with same-sex couples, while 46% said that parochial schools should not be required to employ people who do not follow the Church’s teachings.

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    • I have to place blame for all this confusion, if that is what you want to call it, right at the feet of our Bishops. If they had spoken up when President Obama trampled all across our First Amendment Religious Rights Demanding Free Contraceptives and even the Morning After Pill be included in his “Obama Care” program,

      More importantly,, if they would have spoken out in a clear and distinctive voice condemning every so-called Catholic Politician, regardless of Party, who advocated for abortion it would have sent a message we all could understand. Instead their silence sent a clear message of acceptance.

      If our Bishops would have sent out Letters to their members stating the Church’s standing on each of these important points, not just once but annually and not to just those attending mass but to every Catholic in their Diocese, it would have made a significant difference. But they remained silent and that sent a message by itself.

      Our Shepards have remained silent and hidden. They have abdicated their responsibility and on the rare occasion when one has done his job as he should, instead of being congratulated and emulated he is “righteously” condemned and purloined by his brother Bishops. Shame on all of them. I truly believe our Lord Jesus Christ must be shaking his head and sobbing at the piss poor job they are doing for their flocks.

  1. Among Catholics who accept all of the Church’s teachings, these are the ones who favor Trump and I am in that grouping. The other group of so called Catholics you’ll see tomorrow will be getting ashes because they think they are “good catholics” and want to show the world that they are. When actually they are the devil’s wolves in sheep’s clothing:-(

    • I “strongly agree” with your post. I too am one of those orthodox who believe all the Church teachings because Jesus cannot be separated from His church. And those CINOs (Catholic in name only) will be attending Ash Wednesday Mass in order to show the world they’re Catholic, ha! I can see Nancy now with the biggest ash cross now! Talk about disappointing!

      • That is good but the objectivity of the sin of abortion, euthanasia, gender mixup, are still serious sins and any politician, regardless of party, are committing a Mortal sin and on the verge of Hell.
        The way to Heaven is straight and narrow.

  2. It seems a significant portion of Catholics are not, if fact, Catholic. To be in Communion with Holy Mother Church, one must believe all that she teaches.

    • Well I can see the possibility of having a different opinion of one or more Church teachings in good conscience, but I can’t imagine anyone with any moral sense believing that abortion or euthanasia are not intrinsically evil. And here we see a majority of people claiming a Catholic mantle avow that. Truly tragic. Nostra mater dolorosa must cry many bitter tears to see what we have become.

    • Gato,
      I’m puzzled too. A friend of mine has an elderly mother who attends Mass daily, supports Catholic charities, is generous to the poor, etc. but strictly votes Democrat.
      Perhaps the answer lies with the parish she attends and what is preached there.
      There are issues like feticide that are non negotiable for Catholics but we still see the “seamless garment” philosophy clouding otherwise decent people’s consciences.

    • A lot of Catholics are either poorly catechized or they are ignorant of the policies the current Democratic Party leadership stands for.

  3. It would be interesting to find out whether most of the “Catholics” surveyed actually understand the meaning of “intrinsically evil,” or the distinction between the end of the act and the end of the agent. I guess education is a lot to ask.

  4. If this poll is an accurate barometer of Catholic beliefs , we are in trouble. It is no wonder that the Evangelical movement is making huge inroads.

    • Fact of the matter is that way to many born and raised in the Catholic Church are essentially Catholics in Name Only (CINOs). What percent of Catholic attend mass every Sunday or even regularly? In the NW suburbs of Chicago where I now live just consider the number of Masses offered on Holy Days. Except for few parishes it maybe one the night before and one during the day, with attendance being very small. Little attempt is made to emphasis the importance of going to mass; there is limited sermons on going to confession, the importance of prayer, rosary etc. So how or why would any typical CINO care about church teachings – rarely taught. There is also more or less nothing said about abortion, creating an unseemly level of acceptance that is compounded by most Cardinals and Bishops saying nothing to the CINO politicians who constantly vote to fund and support abortions. Instead all to many Catholic parishes today, sad to say, are essentially a social organization, focusing on giving stuff to those less fortunate or sponsoring trips for seniors to go to casinos, Cubs Games etc. Nothing wrong with that, per say, but how about Catholic Church/Parishes being in the true faith sense that the Christ wants the Catholic Church and its parishes to be. Without that happening these survey results will produce the same dismal results about the state of the Catholic Church.

  5. Anyone who says abortion is not evil has never seen one. If you see a baby child struggle to escape the death machine or fry in the chemicals you don’t need anyone to tell you what is good or evil. The whole problem is those who make the laws and those who vote, don’t bother to find out what they are talking about and doing. I say that is the first step. No matter the circumstances, we can fix that, dont do the evil. There is no excuse anymore.

  6. The choice is between a pro-life president who is also a con man, a narcissist, who needs to be worshipped, and who is a real danger to our country and the other party who is the opposite of pro-life and right on a lot of other issues. I am in the category of one who attends mass 3 times a week and accepts all of my church’s teachings. I won’t vote for Trump and I won’t vote for the pro-abortion party. That is, I won’t vote for either of them. I will continue to pray that thy kingdom come and thy will be done. I don’t know the answer but God does.

    • Paul,
      I have Anabaptist friends who never vote at all for religious reasons and we certainly have the right to not be forced to vote for anyone. But I’m missing how Mr. Trump poses a danger to our country?
      He seems to have been an accidental candidate and was not prepared for the office but it does appear that we are entering into less foreign conflicts than under previous administrations.
      I’m personally impressed with the number of promises Mr Trump has kept, especially in regards to federal court judges. That’s really what will affect the kind of culture our children inherit.

      • One of Trump’s greatest achievements is flipping the Ninth District Court from liberal to conservative, which is a blessing! “Trump has set all records for the number of appellate appointees,” said University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias. The federal appeals courts are just one rung below the Supreme Court, and federal judges serve for life. Praise God! We’ve suffered tremendously for years.

    • Dear Paul, who are REALLY those who actually NEED to be worshipped? Is it Trump, who is the most slandered, demonized, whipped President ever, with all those attacks having NO bad consequences at all and that are indeed publicly celebrated by many, OR the ones on the other side, those who like Obama are always treated with silk gloves and any fact-check whatsoever is viciously and rabidly attacked as racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. with some even attacking their homes and businesses?

      If you are as Catholic as you say, you must let Jesus The Living Truth live in you, so you are not just someone in the Church but the Church is really IN you. A rock can be in a great river without ever getting wet inside, but True Catholics let God melt our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26), and yes, I include myself there, as we are all sinners, you, me, Trump and all others. So, would you follow a repentant sinner or a proud, popular Pharisee? (Luke 18:13-14).

      Emotionalism, Sentimentalism and Ideology are not Truth and they do not make you an “automatic saint”. God does His Great Works through very imperfect vessels, you, me and everyone! “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us”, (2 Corinthians 4:7). We must be truly, deeply, courageously humble. Glory be to His Name, the only One worthy to be worshipped!!

    • So Trump is not ideal. Name me one recent President who was not a con man or narcissist. Unfortunately JFK, God have mercy on his soul, were both to a larger decree. He had sex with multiple women in the White House, while pretending to have a wholesome family life. Under his regime the leaders of South Vietnam, both Catholics, were assassinated, with the support of the CIA. We now have a president, whose past I agree is not good, but nevertheless is the most pro life president in history. Excuse me, but I find your pretense for not voting for him to be a tad narcissistic.

    • Paul, what makes you think he is a con man? Look at the difference. He made promises. He kept those promises. You are mixing Trump with Bill Clinton who had sex in the WH with multiple women.
      It is a moral obligation to vote.

  7. ‘We are accountable for not making a definitive stand against evil….If you know the greater evil and do not vote against it, then you are accountable for that choice for failing to directly make a stand against it’.

    here is how one good priest continues his witness recently on social media:

    Be very careful if you are considering not voting this coming election because of the policies or character of certain candidates. If you know the greater evil and do not vote against it, then you are accountable for that choice for failing to directly make a stand against it. Let me give you a scenario that fits for the present evil we are faced with… Let’s say you are in Germany and you know the Nazi party is in favor of concentration camps and putting certain people to death… millions of them, but you do not like the candidate of the other party who has a chance to win because of their bad character or personal choices or policies which are not necessarily directly evil but which you do not believe to do good. You are accountable if you choose NOT to vote because you don’t like that other candidate because by doing so, you are allowing the evil of the Nazi Party to move forward and failing to make a direct stand against it because of your personal feelings or opinions towards the opposing candidate. In fact, the Democratic Party is worse than the Nazi Party as abortion alone has directly killed more innocent human life than the amount of lives lost during the atrocities of the concentration camps in WW2.
    The total number of murdered during the Holocaust by the Nazi government is at 17 million (see Wikipedia “Holocaust victims”)
    vs. The Consequences of Roe v. Wade: 61,628,584 Total abortions since 1973.

    Based on numbers reported by the Guttmacher Institute 1973-2017, with 3% added for GI estimated possible 3-5% undercount for 1973-2014. Another 12,000 per year added for 2015-2019 for abortions from “providers” that GI says it may have missed in 2015-2017 counts. All of these were permitted and legalized by politicians the American people have voted for. And they do not only want these unjust evils, they want them through birth, Infanticide AND want to sell the baby parts – they are doing this by laws and so forth.
    We are accountable for not making a definitive stand against evil.

    • Consequentialist thinking with regards to voting may be justifiable but it is limited by the lack of certitude regarding particulars and unknowns. It is dubious that most can know with moral certitude that candidate b will commit more moral evil, or bring about more evil, unless one happens to be in the candidate’s inner circle. A platform and campaign “promises” may give some indications of what the candidate may do, but that is still an incomplete picture.

      A priest’s private opinion is not “binding,” and I find it unlikely that his is the dominant opinion of Latin moral theologians today regarding the casuistry of voting.

  8. Two generations now of kumbaya liturgies and big-tent moral theology, and counting.

    In a nutshell, a POLE gave us the Catechism and Veritatis Splendor, while the POLL shows us the reason for his unambiguous/still-awaited New Evangelization–and which (by St. John Paul II’s definition) is to be proposed in post-Christian and post-Catholic countries. THIS is the hijacked “new paradigm.”

    • Republicans tried to get a vote in Senate against Infanticide. Senate democrats, including such notable Catholic Senator Dick Durbin all joined in a filibuster to prevent a vote. Tomorrow on Ask Wednesday it is likely Catholic Senator Durbin will be show casing the ashes on his forehead to highlight he is a good Catholic. One can argue or identify the errors about formation of the survey, which I think are probably correct. But the end result really does not make much difference; most of the people who call themselves Catholics just don’t care about the faith.

  9. Extraordinary result given the simple question of abortion, which the Democrat candidates all support in very strong measures, compared to Trump who is the only President in history who has attended the March for Life rally.

    You can say alot of things about Trump, yes he’s rude, brash and unapologetic, but on many of the issues that are key to us of the Catholic faith, he is much closer to what is needed at this time of ungodly thoughts and deeds that are promoted as healthcare policy in this day and age.

  10. Dear Phil, It appears that your primary and possibly only news source is Fox News and that you believe everything that Trump and his worshipers tell you. I believe that he is going to start a nuclear war. He is addicted to power and almost every day he exercises that power. I think he gets high from doing this but it will take more and more abuses of power to feed his ego until the end comes. And by the way, one of my favorite charities which I give to generously is The Thomas Moore Society. Their defense of pro-life causes is outstanding.

    • So Paul, if you don’t vote for a pro life candidate ( Trump) who would get your vote? All the Democrats by definition are supporters of baby killing, you sound very noncommittal. Slavery and the Jewish genocide were stopped by people that took a stand. I hope that one day you also get the courage to step up. May God give you strength. Steve

    • Dear Paul Ringsmuth, the fact that you start by addressing me without a direct reply to me says a lot. You go behind me to say that I, as you say, that “… It appears that your primary and possibly only news source is Fox News and that you believe everything that Trump and his worshipers tell you”. How is that even possible when in my words I DO NOT use any of Fox’s TV station’s references or statements? I am talking REALITY, brother, not Fox-style journalism and my reply to you is STRICTLY Reality, Bible and Tradition based not politically based. Is politics way above Jesus to you?

      Your willfulness and insistence on irrational arguments betrays a lack of Catholic maturity to such a very large degree that most Catholics, sinners and immature while growing we all, do not have. How is it Trump “foaming-at-the-mouth” to start a nuclear war, as you say, and he did not use the counter-attack by Iran after Soleimani was killed, and did NOT take that perfect opportunity to start a war right then and there? Why? If you have said your good-by’s to REALITY you are in a very precarious and very dangerous position.

      You truly need to let Jesus help you return you from the Land of False Ideological Perfection and False Sanctity, that is like an emotional meth drug infecting the World and the Church. If you rather follow a proud, popular, falsely “perfect” Pharisee promoting Death instead of a flawed (like you, me and all), repentant sinner promoting Life, then you are a Minion of Death and you will have to respond to God for that even if you are a “practicing” Catholic standing against abortion but so open to Death.

      “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God”, (James 4:4). “”Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters”, (Matthew 12:30).

    • Paul, I guess you are getting your information from the fake and corrupt news. Sad!!!
      Regardless, there is a Moral Absolute vs. Moral relativism
      If you go against any Moral Absolute, you go against Christ who founded the One, Holy, Catholic Church and therefore liable to judgement at the end of your life. Don’t be a CINO. Stand up to the purveyance of subjective evil and not the man or woman running for office. If they are against Moral Absolutes, then by definition,you cannot vote for them.
      After all, it takes one good man to do nothing and allow the flourishing of evil.

  11. Based on the numbers, a minimum of 40% of those going to holy communion should not be receiving. Why aren’t the clergy doing something about this “sacrilege”? This makes them culpable!

  12. Is there a reason the the American College of Catholic Bishops can’t come out with a simple statement to the effect that true Catholics should not vote for a Democrat based on their Political Platform of the past two Election cycles and in all probability this cycle as we which states they are in favor of a) Abortion on Demand – to include late term abortions through birth, b) they are in favor of euthanasia c) they are in favor of Socialism, i.e. Communism and other solid reasons that are against Church Dogma?

  13. I am very disappointed with those comments made by those who try to achieve their own political beliefs or goals under God’s name. I also feel that they may not know what they are doing.

    • Joe, last time I checked, abortion is not a political goal.. A baby in the womb is life , science has overwhelmingly agreed with that statement. Now if one political party endorses the killing of life , do you think that God is interested in the way we vote?

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