Nineteen Sixty-four is a research blog for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University edited by Mark M. Gray. CARA is a non-profit research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church. Founded in 1964, CARA has three major dimensions to its mission: to increase the Catholic Church's self understanding; to serve the applied research needs of Church decision-makers; and to advance scholarly research on religion, particularly Catholicism. Follow CARA on Twitter at: caracatholic.


Romney Has Early Lead in the Republican Catholic Vote

[Update: the data from this post are updated with Super Tuesday results here]

More than 4.5 million Republicans (mostly... as there are open primaries and caucuses can include those of other affiliations) have expressed their preference for their party's 2012 presidential nominee in the first two months of a six month primary and caucus season. We know something about the religion of about nine in 10 of these participants (89% or more than 4 million) in exit polls (primaries) and entry polls (caucuses). Of those we can see in these data, 27% self-identify as Catholic representing 1.08 million participants to date. Of these Catholics, 49% have stated their preference in their primaries or caucuses for Gov. Mitt Romney (more than 530,000 votes). 

The only caucus for which polling data are available was held in Nevada. There are no data available for Missouri's non-binding primary (this state will hold a caucus in March) or for the caucuses in Maine, Colorado, or Minnesota. Entry-poll data are available for the Iowa caucus but no question was used that would allow one to isolate Catholic participants. Sen. Rick Santorum did very well in most of these contests but even if he won every single Catholic vote in all of these contests he would still likely trail Romney by more than 200,000 votes and by double digits in percentage points among Catholic Republicans.

The trends over time in the exit/entry polls show the waning of Catholic Republican support for Speaker Newt Gingrich and the rise of support for Santorum. But so far it has not been enough to make much of a dent in Romney's cumulative popular vote for all contests.

Santorum may be focusing on caucus states rather than primaries as a strategic choice. This indeed would result in minimizing his cumulative vote totals as caucuses draw many fewer participants than primaries. But a counter argument would be that the general election does not include any caucuses. Winning the presidency, as well as the nomination to run for this office, requires winning among the broader electorate (and often the Catholic electorate specifically). Santorum has yet to show he can do this among Catholic Republicans in binding primaries (the Missouri contest did not allocate any delegates and resulted in the lowest turnout of any 2012 primary so far at 7%).

Of course entry and exit polls always include margins of sampling error. Yet, Romney's lead is safe beyond these margins and the effects of missing data (the 11% of participants we can't see in surveys). It is also the case that Romney's primary vote totals are reflected in some recent national polling on the broader Catholic vote. 

If a Catholic Republican candidate, Santorum or Gingrich, has hopes of eclipsing Romney's cumulative Catholic popular vote lead they will need to have some big wins next week on Super Tuesday. One of the big prizes will be Ohio where Santorum has held a lead among all Republicans in polls. Another big prize is Georgia where Gingrich leads. 


Student Loans: A Drag on Vocations

In a recent post we reviewed some of CARA’s research and data on how discouragement by family and peers is likely having a significant negative impact on religious and priestly vocations. Today, the National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC) released a study conducted by CARA regarding another infrequently noted factor: the effect of student loan debt.

In this study, CARA surveyed major superiors of religious institutes and societies of apostolic life (a total of 865 religious institutes) in June 2011. CARA received completed responses from 477 religious institutes for a response rate of 56%. The units that responded to the survey reported a total of 47,113 perpetually professed men and women religious, approximately two-thirds of all women and men religious in the United States.  Many of the institutes or other entities that did not respond appear to be either small, mostly contemplative, communities that may not have had anyone in initial formation for some time, or those who are still in the process of becoming institutes of consecrated life.

On average, responding institutes with at least one serious inquirer in the last ten years report that for about a third of these inquiries (32%) the person had educational debt at the time of their inquiry. This represents 4,328 serious inquiries in which the person had educational debt. The average amount of this debt at the time of inquiry was $28,000.

Assuming that the average amount of time enrolled in college is four years, a mean average (mean of the mean) educational debt of $28,000 is equivalent to $7,000 per year. This is comparable to other students’ educational borrowing habits. In the 2007-2008 academic year, 53% of undergraduate students attending a public, 4-year institution took out student loans averaging $7,200. In that same year, 65% of undergraduate students at private, not-for-profit institutions (including Roman Catholic colleges and universities) took out student loans averaging $10,000 (source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics).

Religious institutes that have had at least three serious inquirers in the last ten years who had educational debt at the time of their inquiry report that this debt is having a dampening effect on the institute. A third (34%) report that at least some serious inquirers have not pursued the application process because of their educational debt. Three in ten (29%) say that formal applicants have not completed the application process and a fifth (22%) say that the unit has experienced financial strain due to the educational debt of candidates or members. 

Four in ten responding institutes (42 percent) take on the educational debt of candidates or members. This varies by conference as shown in the figure below.

Among institutes that take on educational debt, six in ten (60%) limit the amount of educational debt they would assume for a candidate. The midpoint of that limit, among responding institutes, is $20,000. CMSM institutes have the highest limit, with a midpoint of $25,000 among member institutes. For LCWR member institutes this median limit is $16,000. At CMSWR member institutes the midpoint limit is $10,000 and for contemplative communities this is $4,000.

The full report, by CARA researchers Mary L. Gautier and Melissa A. Cidade, is available for download here.

Above photo courtesy of CarbonNYC at Flickr Creative Commons. 


The Pill, Polls, Policy, and Doctrine

An assortment of Catholic commentators (even the Vice President?) have expressed concern about the Obama administration’s decision to require some Catholic institutions (i.e., charities, colleges, hospitals) to provide access to and pay for birth control in employee health plans [Update: ...a recently announced accommodation plan requires the insurance providers for these institutions to offer and pay for these directly. Objections have been raised that this shift functionally changes very little. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat argues that it “asks the parties involved to compromise their reasoning faculties and play a game of ‘let’s pretend.’”]

Speaking as a political scientist, the new rule does seem like a bit of an odd choice in an election year. I’m not sure if many votes will be gained by the decision (people who would have otherwise not voted for President Obama in 2012 changing their mind to support him). Polls also indicate that new votes picked up will likely be outweighed by those potentially lost. Those speaking out against the decision have included well-known Catholics on the political left—unifying many Catholic leaders and pundits in a way that is not often seen. President Obama needs a majority of the Catholic vote in 2012. Nearly all presidential candidates have. This decision may have damaged those prospects. PRRI's polling indicates that “among Catholic voters … only 45% support this requirement, while 52% oppose it.” [Update: Opposition to the requirement among Catholic voters is now polling at 65%. Even more data from Pew here indicating a majority Catholic's who have heard of the rule oppose it. Outlier results on the topic are at CBS/NYT. Question wording is having an influence on responses.]

How did the administration come to this decision? I would not be surprised if polling data were used. In general, the Obama administration appears to rely heavily on testing language and policies in polls. The extensive use of survey research has been noted elsewhere in articles such as Polling Helps Obama Frame Message in Health-Care Debate” or Obama Using Polling Data.” Is President Obama’s use of polling all that different than his predecessors or his opponents? There are indications that it is. According to, in the 2008 campaign, then candidate Obama spent $28 million on polling, surveys, and research (about 4% of total campaign expenditures). By comparison Republican candidate John McCain spent only $4.2 million polling, surveys, and research (about 1% of total campaign expenditures). 

In the 2012 campaign, President Obama has already reported spending $4 million on polling, surveys, and research while being unopposed in his party’s primaries. The percentage of his expenditures dedicated to this research in the current cycle has increased to 6.4% of his total campaign outlays. By comparison the combined spending on polling, surveys, and research by the four candidates for the Republican nomination totaled $1.8 million during the same period. No candidate for president has ever dedicated so much of their campaign resources to polling as Barack Obama. For more perspective, note that the $4 million already spent by President Obama in the 2012 election cycle exceeds the total amount Democratic candidate John Kerry spent in his entire 2004 campaign.

I’m a survey researcher so I obviously know how valuable polling data can be. But these data can mislead at times. My hunch (and it is only that), is that some in the Obama administration looked at the polling data on Catholics and contraceptives prior to the announcement and thought the policy would be a home run. They might have reviewed this report from the Guttmacher Institute [Update: a good analysis of the 98% contraceptive use figure from the study is available at The Washington Post] or fielded their own surveys. They may have assumed that the personal decisions of many Catholics regarding contraceptives would provide the cover they needed to take on any opposition of the bishops. I think they envisioned that they could then just point to the polls (as they do now on the campaign website) and say to the bishops “you are out of touch.”

If made, I think this was likely a poor strategic decision on two counts. First, there are some Catholics (and this really only has to be a small percentage of the population to alter the 2012 election calculus) who are offended by any aspect of the government requiring the Church to do something that would violate its teachings—even when they personally do not follow these teachings. The decision touches the contentious constitutional boundaries between the American federal government and the practice of religion. Second, I think many American politicians, journalists, and commentators forget that there is no “American Catholic Church.” There is the Catholic Church in the United States—just one part of a global faith that is much larger outside of U.S. borders. In the grand scheme of things the polling numbers on attitudes and behaviors of Catholics in America (under 6% of the global Catholic population) cannot realistically be thought to have an impact on issues of doctrine. Would the global Church change or ignore one of its core teachings to “get in touch” with 50% plus one of the American population as it is polling currently? No. Not a chance. There is a much larger context to consider. The clashing policies and doctrines reside in different geographies. More so, purely from an American perspective, polls cannot trump the Constitution and in the end it will likely be the courts who will decide if the rule and accommodation do not violate protections for religious institutions (e.g., EWTN's case).

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