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. 

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