August 1, 2012

Catholics Share Bishops’ Concerns about Religious Liberty

But Catholic Voters Back Obama on Social Issues  

Washington, D.C. – Today, the provision of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act that offers free contraception to women on employer health care plans goes into effect, though many religious institutions have a one-year reprieve. Catholics who are aware of U.S. bishops’ concerns about restrictions on religious liberty – including the contraceptive mandate – generally agree with the bishops’ concerns. Yet the bishops’ protests against government policies they see as restrictive of religious liberty have not drawn much more interest among Catholics than among the general public. And there are no significant differences in the presidential vote preferences between Catholic voters who have heard about the bishops’ protests and those who have not.


Jemila Woodson
Communications Associate

Liga Plaveniece
Communications Associate

Nearly two-thirds of Catholics (64%) have heard at least a little about the bishops’ protests against a number of government policies, including Obama administration policies requiring religious institutions such as universities and hospitals to provide contraceptive services to their employees. But just 22% of Catholics say they have heard a lot about them. Moreover, only about a third of Catholic churchgoers (32%) say their priest has spoken out on this issue at Mass.

By a 56% to 36% margin, Catholics who are aware of the bishops’ protests about what they believe are infringements on religious liberty say they agree with the bishops’ concerns. Among all Americans who are aware of the protests, there is less support for the bishops’ position: 41% agree with the bishops’ concerns, while 47% disagree.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted June 28-July 9, 2012, among 2,973 adults, finds that most Catholics express satisfaction with the leadership of the bishops and other church officials. Large majorities are very or somewhat satisfied with the leadership provided by Catholic nuns and sisters in the U.S. (83%), their own parish priests (82%), their diocesan bishop (74%), the pope (74%) and American bishops in general (70%).

So far this election year, neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney has established a consistent lead among Catholic voters. Currently, 51% of Catholic registered voters support Obama or lean toward him, while 42% support or lean toward Romney. Among all registered voters, 50% favor Obama, while 43% back Romney.

Catholic voters who have heard at least a little about the bishops’ protests divide their support between Obama and Romney: 51% back Obama or lean toward him, while 44% support Romney. The race is about the same among Catholic voters who have not heard about the protests (51% Obama vs. 38% Romney). Among Catholic voters who have heard about the protests, those who agree with the bishops’ concerns support Romney by a wide margin (60% to 34%). Those who disagree with the bishops’ concerns favor Obama by an even larger margin (78% to 19%).

The full report, including additional resources on Catholics, is available on the Pew Forum’s website.


The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life conducts surveys, demographic analyses and other social science research on important aspects of religion and public life in the U.S. and around the world. As part of the Washington-based Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, non-advocacy organization, the Pew Forum does not take positions on policy debates or any of the issues it covers. 

Twitter: @pewforum