Earlier this month, Quinnipac University released a poll on Catholic attitudes on a range of issues, including abortion and same sex marriage. To their credit, Quinnipac separately reported results for Catholics who attend Mass weekly and Catholics who attend Mass less often. Often times, survey research firm lump consistent Mass attendees with infrequent Mass attendees. This often creates the misleading impression that Catholic attitudes on a range of issues are well to the left of the general population.
The poll findings on abortion are consistent with previous surveys. Catholic attitudes were fairly similar to the rest of the population. Thirty-nine percent of all respondents — and 42 percent of self-identified Catholics – felt abortion should be illegal in either “all” or “most” cases. However, there was a substantial difference in the opinions among Catholics who attended Mass on a weekly basis and those who did not. According to the survey, 61 percent of Catholics who attend Mass on a weekly basis thought abortion should be either mostly or entirely illegal. Only 29 percent of Catholics who attend Mass less often felt this way.
The results on same sex marriage were unsettling. The poll found that Catholic attitudes were again consistent with the rest of the population. Fifty-six percent of all respondents – and 60 percent of Catholics — support same sex marriage. However, what was disappointing was that a majority of Catholics (53 percent) who attend Mass weekly support same sex marriage. Interestingly, adherents of other faiths who attend church on a weekly basis were much less likely to support same sex marriage. Among all faith traditions – only 34 percent of weekly church attendees support same sex marriage.
This opinion gap between churchgoing Catholics and churchgoing non-Catholics is puzzling. Mark Regnerus of the Univeristy of Texas has shown that responses on same sex marriage polls are heavily influenced by the way questions are worded. Quinnipac’s same-sex marriage question — asking respondents if they would support or oppose a law allowing same-sex couples to get married – does bias people toward a pro same-sex marriage position. It is possible that the responses of churchgoing Catholics are more sensitive to question wording than other demographic groups. It is also possible that the sample of Mass attending Catholics was somehow skewed or unrepresentative.
That having been said, Catholics are a key demographic group in many “purple” states where there will likely be organized efforts to expand same-sex marriage. More research on the opinions of Catholics on this issue would certainly be welcome. If future surveys show similar results – clergy and laity who support traditional marriage need to more effectively communicate church teachings on this issue. Outreach efforts are needed not just to the general population, but apparently even to those who attend Mass on a weekly basis.