In a shift that could have consequences for the 2012 election, Catholic voters – especially non-Hispanic white Catholics – are more likely to identify as Republican or leaning Republican than they were in 2008.
A 2008 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found a significant Democratic advantage among Catholics. Fifty-three percent identified as Democratic or leaning Democratic voters, compared to 37 percent identifying with the Republican camp.
But Catholic respondents to the Pew Forum's 2011 survey were less likely to identify as Democrats or leaning Democratic. About 48 percent said they were Democrats or Democrat-leaning, while 43 percent said they were Republican or Republican-leaning – a six percentage point swing.
The change among non-Hispanic white Catholics was more pronounced at eight percentage points. In 2008, 41 percent were Republican or leaning Republican and 49 percent were Democratic or leaning Democratic. In 2011, 49 percent were identifying as Republican or leaning Republican, while only 42 percent stated a preference for the Democrats.
White Catholics who attend Mass weekly split party identification evenly in 2008, with 45 percent siding with each party. In 2011, 52 percent now identify as Republican or leaning Republican. Less frequent Mass goers were aligned with the Democratic Party at a rate of 54 percent in 2008, but now only 45 percent did so in the Pew Forum’s most recent survey. Forty-seven percent now side with Republicans.
Fifty-four percent of white Catholics under 30 now identify with the Republican Party, while only 49 percent of those age 30 and older do.
The survey shows losses for Democrats and gains for Republicans across all religious groups. The white Catholic shift of eight percentage points was exceeded only by a nine-point shift among Jews and a 12-point shift among Mormons.
The Pew Forum, which released the results on Feb. 2, claims a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percent for the Catholic and white Catholic respondents in 2011 and a plus or minus two percent margin of error for the same groups in 2008. Its survey was conducted at various points throughout 2011.