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.

8.17.2012

Spot the difference...


Recently I was contacted several times by a reporter at The Economist for some data. I’ve always felt that this is one of the last few intelligent magazines on the racks. But I also recall being concerned after speaking to this reporter and thinking, “he doesn’t quite get the Church.” He seemed stunned to find out that the Catholic Church in the United States doesn’t have a neat and tidy set of financials done annually. He felt the Church should be doing what any multinational corporation would do. I kept telling him the Church is not Walmart.

I just read the story in this week’s Economist and it has shaken my opinion of the publication a bit. I’m not concerned about any anti-Catholic “bias” or the rehashing of the financial fallout of the sex abuse crisis or diocesan bankruptcies. Instead I am concerned about the lack of understanding of what the Church is as an institution in the piece. Here’s a taste:

[T]he finances of the Catholic church in America are an unholy mess. … The church’s finances look poorly co-ordinated.

[T]here are now over 6,800 Catholic schools (5% of the national total); 630 hospitals (11%) plus a similar number of smaller health facilities; and 244 colleges and universities. … All these institutions are subject to the oversight of a bishop or a religious order. The Economist estimates that annual spending by the church and entities owned by the church was around $170 billion in 2010 (the church does not release such figures). … For purposes of secular comparison, in 2010 General Electric’s revenue was $150 billion and Walmart employed roughly 2m people.”

Where that money comes from is hard to say (the church does not release numbers on this either). Some of it is from the offerings of the faithful. Anecdotal evidence suggests that America’s Catholics give about $10 per week on average. Assuming that one-third attend church regularly, that would put the annual offertory income at around $13 billion.

I am guessing The Economist does not have a copy of the Code of Canon Law. Even a glancing read of the Code would have revealed that the Church is quite clearly not run like a multinational corporation such as Walmart or General Electric and I for one am glad it’s not. The sole objective of the modern corporation is to extract and grow profits and in doing so it creates economic growth, wealth, and products and services we desire. But it sadly has no capacity for social justice. Even if a corporate CEO did devote corporate resources for a “good cause” shareholders could sue for neglect of fiduciary responsibility. As many Americans have learned in the last four years of recession and recovery, the modern corporation is no paragon of transparency and ethics (…as a great documentary, The Corporation, demonstrates these institutions really are “people” under the law. The kind of people that would likely be diagnosed as psychopaths using The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

Why don’t the people and institutions that make up the Church in the United States take the time to communicate their budgets and revenue together in an annual hierarchical manner so the Church can produce a financial report that The Economist needs for its story? Because it would be an extraordinary waste of the Church’s resources and time. The Church is not in the business of generating profits like a corporation. It provides ministry, charity, and service to the communities it exists in. It also has no legal obligation to provide what The Economist desires.

As an institution, the Church is nearly 2,000 years old and its structure was fashioned well before modern communication. This reality required significant local autonomy. Priests were responsible for parishes, bishops for dioceses. This same feudal-like structure persists. Add on to this the development of colleges, schools, hospitals, and charities that were often associated with religious orders. Separate aspects of the Church operate for the most part independently—with their own leadership, budgets, revenues, and obligations (perhaps some of the frustration from The Economist comes from the realization that financials do exist for each of these institutions and organizations but it would take forever to collect and tally them all).

I hate to break this to The Economist but there is no “U.S. Catholic Church.” However, one of the best descriptions of all that is the Church in the United States can be found in The Official Catholic Directory. If you are listed in it you are an official part of the Church and you are tax exempt. CARA and Georgetown University are in the OCD under the Archdiocese of Washington. However, we don’t share our financials with Cardinal Wuerl (...we have annual audits and answer to a Board of Directors). He in no way dictates day to day operations nor does he have any direct administrative role. Yet he is, importantly, the pastoral leader of all Catholic entities in the Archdiocese.

What The Economist doesn’t appear to get is that the institutions of the Church are incredibly decentralized—operating as individual entities under the pastoral umbrella of the Church. The pope is not a CEO sitting in the Vatican with a big map saying “build a parish here, a hospital here, and close that school over there.” Yet this is what The Economist wants the Church to be (maybe they’ve watched The Da Vinci Code a few too many times?). Throughout The Economist’s story there is an underlying tone or belief by the reporter that the Church has this information but is withholding it—“the Church does not release such figures.”  The reporter fails to understand that the Church does not have these figures (e.g., aggregated annual spending by all entities of the Church, all donations to Church entities) because it has no apparatus to collect them.

The little data collection that does go on in the Church broadly (e.g., the Vatican's Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae or Annuario Pontificio) is related to what the Church does—it’s about ministry (i.e., numbers of baptisms, marriages, ordinations). I understand the natural skepticism and cynicism of The Economist but I can also attest that if you want to get rich, working for the Church would be a lousy idea. The $10 per week, on average, given by parishioner families is just enough to keep the lights on in most U.S. parishes. The most common reason for a Catholic school to close is their inability to generate enough revenue to keep the school operating. Nearly half of all individuals providing ministry or service in a U.S. parish are volunteers. Among those who are paid, the median annual wages or salaries amount to $31,000. The pastor is typically among the lowest paid members of the staff (…although he does receive free housing). By canon law, each parish (and diocese) is required to have a finance council that oversees the dollars and cents of its operations—most often composed of parishioners with financial experience. How many Walmarts have a community council including customers helping to make decisions for the local store? 

I was sure The Economist doesn’t have a copy of the Code of Canon Law when I read the that the Church has “17,958 parishes run by 39,466 priests and 16,921 married deacons.” Not all priests and deacons are in parish ministry. Not all deacons are married. No deacons technically “run” a Catholic parish. Ultimately, all parishes are administered or supervised by priests. Most people helping a parish operate are neither priests nor deacons. In a small number of parishes, under Canon 517.2, the pastoral care of the parish may be entrusted to a deacon—more often to a lay person—but these parishes remain under the supervision of a non-resident priest. The vast majority of deacons (married or not) are not serving in this capacity. In fact, the ministry of deacons, who are not paid, is oriented toward service, not administration.

Parishes may be the heart of the Church, but as The Economist also found, much of the economic activity of the Church occurs in hospitals (they estimate 57% of all spending is health related. The other largest component of spending is said to be within colleges and universities at 28%). Here again, as with universities, these are institutions that are for the most part operating independently under the pastoral umbrella of the Church. There is no bishop sitting in these hospitals going over patient bills or setting the costs for procedures. This is not what bishops do. 

If the aim of this article was to encourage the Church to be more like Walmart I personally remain unconvinced. I don’t know any person or institution that is not without its sins and The Economist’s story correctly notes many of the Church’s recent failings. But I would also counter that there are many corporations who really, really need to find a way to adopt some of the charitable focus of most non-profits (religious or secular) more than the Church needs to adopt corporate accounting practices on a unified global scale. I know the Church does a lot more good in the world than Walmart or General Electric (the latter being a for-profit that is magically “tax exempt”). Would it be able to do this better with more financial oversight? I agree it would. But I’m not sure the effort that it would take to create an annual summary of the Church’s finances for every parish, school, hospital, and charity around the world would be the best use of its time (...costs would exceed benefits). I also think that such a device would not prevent, reduce, or deter any illegal or abusive activity, just as it fails to do so in the corporate world.

Update (8/19): Ive examined the math a bit more in The Economist piece and discovered a significant problem. The story overestimates annual Catholic Church offertory by $4.6 billion or 50% because they assume Mass-attending individuals give an average of $10 per week (for data see pg. 43) rather than households. Also, The Economists claim that Catholic parish giving has declined in the last decade is incorrect. As shown in the figure below, the average amount given per week, per parish household increased from 2000 to 2010 (peaking in 2005; declines are likely more related to the effects of the recession than anything else). Because the Catholic population has grown and the average amount given per household has increased the total offertory in 2010 is actually 23% larger than it was in 2000 (even after adjusting for inflation).


I've also had some emails from people responding to this blog. One individual who works in the Church said, “Trust me the church is run by lay incompetents and they desperately need to adopt modern management practices.” As I note in the post, I believe some changes would be good. I’m just not sure the Church needs to refashion itself into a multinational corporation. Another individual who expressed a lot of anger with the Church regarding the sexual abuse of minors by clergy said, “You fail to make any connection between the Church’s lack of transparency and cover-ups and failings, and its multifaceted structure and operation that you emphasize so much.” I would agree with the John Jay criminal justice researchers who cited organizational factors (see pg. 4) as causes of the abuse crisis. The Church has taken some steps to alter its structure in the last decade and these reforms are evaluated annually on a national level and these data are released to the public for review. Still much remains to be done to heal the wounds caused by abuse, if this is even possible. The post does not focus on the issue of abuse because the errors of the The Economist story are in failing to report accurately on how the Church operates financially.

Update (8/27): I had posted material on the blog that goes into the background of the reporter I spoke with (The Economist does not give bylines) and highlighted some of the content in the article that I believe is strongly related to the point of view of the corporate consulting world that the author comes from. There is a trail of this editorial material—often in the form of bizarre “advice”—in his articles about the Church that one does not often see in news or investigative journalism. I removed this from the blog because I think the post above makes the more important points about his errors and I don’t think the author or his work is in need of more attention (...even if it is negative).  

Above photos courtesy of rosebennet and seanbirm at Flickr Creative Commons.

8.15.2012

Perspectives from Parish Leaders: U.S. Parish Life and Ministry

Results for the second phase of a comprehensive three-part study of U.S. parish life are being released today. The focus for this part of the research is on the people who keep parish life vital: staffs (ministry and non-ministry), councils, and volunteers. Collectively these are the Church's parish leaders.

In 2009, the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership project, a Lilly Endowment Inc. funded collaboration of five Catholic national ministerial organizations, commissioned CARA to conduct a series of surveys in parishes nationwide. The first of these was a single informant survey (pastors or parish life coordinators/PLCs under Canon 517.2) sent to parishes to develop a portrait of parish life in the United States today (the full report for this survey, released last summer, is available here: The Changing Face of U.S. Catholic Parishes). That survey was in the field from March 2010 to December 2010 and included a total of 846 parishes (margin of sampling error for the survey is ±3.3 percentage points). The second survey, the focus of the research released today, includes responses from 532 parish leaders in 246 of the parishes from the first survey (margin of sampling error of ±4.2 percentage points). This survey was in the field from May 2011 to April 2012. Some of the major findings fro this study are noted below.

Characteristics of Parish Leaders
The average age of parish leaders is 59. A majority, 54%, are members of the Vatican II Generation (those born 1943 to 1960). One in five is of the Pre-Vatican II Generation (those born before 1943). Nearly one in four is of the Post-Vatican II Generation (those born 1961 to 1981) and only 3% are Millennials (born 1982 or later). The average age when parish leaders say they first felt the call to ministry in any setting (e.g., parish, school, hospital) is 29. 


Current parish leaders of the Millennial Generation have answered a call to ministry a bit before the norm of previous generations. Those in ministry now are “early adopters.” If the past repeats itself we can expect many Millennials to be called to ministry in this decade.

Nearly nine in ten parish leaders self-identify their race and ethnicity as Non-Hispanic white. Six percent self-identify as Hispanic/Latino(a), 2% as Asian or Pacific Islander,  2% as black, African American, African, or Afro-Caribbean, and 1% as Native American. This distribution is strongly related to the typical ages of parish leaders and the racial and ethnic composition of the Catholic population within these generations. In parishes identified by the project as multicultural (i.e., those with more racial and ethnic diversity among parishioners) there are greater numbers of non-Anglo parish leaders.

About one in 20 parish leaders were born outside of the United States. One in ten reports their mother was born in another country and a similar number report their father was. Thirty-eight percent have at least once grandparent who immigrated to the United States. Nearly all parish leaders—98%—say they use English in their ministry. One in ten also use Spanish. One percent indicates use of Latin. Two percent report some other language such as French, Creole, Italian, Tagalog, Polish, Czech, German, or Portuguese.

Eighty-five percent of responding parish leaders are lay persons (excluding men and women religious in ministry). Fifty-seven percent overall are female (including lay women and women religious).

Leaders are very highly educated. Nine in ten have attended college or university at some point in their life and more than a third have graduate degrees (35%) and two-thirds have an undergraduate degree (67%). This high level of education may be part of why 97% of leaders agree “somewhat” or “very much” in the survey that they feel adequately prepared now for ministry and three in four said, similarly, that that they were adequately prepared for their ministry at the time they began it.

Leaders are most likely to say they feel “very much” prepared for the following aspects of parish life:
  • Communicating (56%)
  • Facilitating events and meetings (51%)
  • Administration and planning (50%)
  • Collaborating (48%)
  • Providing ministry to others (45%)
 Leaders are least likely to indicate they are “very much” prepared for: 
  • Managing conflict (24%)
  • Working in a multicultural environment (19%)
  • Counseling (18%)

Fifty-one percent say they earn a salary or wage for their ministry or service to their parish. Of those who do, the median annualized earnings for this are $31,000. Respondents with higher education degrees in ministry, religion, or theology earn more, on average, than those without these. Eighty-four percent of those who are paid say there are “somewhat” or “very much” satisfied with what they earn.

Of those who are paid for their ministry or service, nearly one in five have other employment outside of their parish as well. Among those volunteering for their parish, half have paid employment elsewhere. Parish leaders provide, on average, 23.2 hours of ministry or service to their parish weekly. Pastoral ministers provide an average of 26.3 hours. Sixteen percent of parish leaders provide ministry and service to at least one other parish as well.

Most feel secure in their parish role. Nine in ten agree “somewhat” or “very much” that they have sufficient job security in their ministry. Most also indicate they have access to what they need. Ninety-three percent agree at least “somewhat” that their parish provides them with the resources needed for their ministry. However, Hispanic/Latino(a) parish leaders are among the least likely to agree with this statement (76%). Anecdotally, this may be related to needs for bilingual and Spanish-language resources.

Answering the Call to Ministry
Most leaders, 76%, indicate they began their ministry or service to the Church in the same year they felt the call to do so. Others indicate more of a lag time—most often for acquiring formation or accreditation, as well as placement. Overall, the average time between when one feels the call to ministry and begins ministering is 1.2 years.

Seven in ten parish leaders were members of the parish they began ministry in. Those involved in pastoral ministry are less likely to report this (61%). Two-thirds were recruited initially as volunteers. However, those who are currently paid for their ministry or service are less likely to report this (49%). Younger parish leaders are less likely to indicate being recruited as volunteers. This may reflect their coming of age during a period in which paid ministry is more of a norm whereas previous generations may have begun ministry in a time where volunteering was more prevalent.

Respondents were most likely to say the following first led them to enter ministry:
  1. To be of service to the Church (75%)
  2. As a response to God’s call (56%)
  3. A desire to be more active in parish life (55%)
  4. To enhance their spiritual life (51%)
Those involved in pastoral ministry were especially likely to say they did so in response to God’s call (70%). Those not involved in pastoral ministry were especially likely to emphasize they entered ministry at the invitation of their pastor or the parish life coordinator (50%).

A majority of leaders indicate they entered ministry after being encouraged by a priest (53%). Others noted encouragement from fellow parishioners (34%), friends (29%), and spouses (27%). Millennials are less likely than others to note encouragement from a priest (39%) and were more likely to note receiving this from friends (54%) or a teacher or professor (46%).

One in four parish leaders say they were inspired to enter ministry by a specific movement or program within the Church. This was most often reported by men (31%) and Millennials (33%). Among the movements and programs most often cited by respondents are RCIA, Cursillo, Knights of Columbus, RENEW, and Teens Encounter Christ.

Three in four leaders (75%) agree “very much” that their ministry or service to their parish is a calling or vocation rather than just a job. Those involved in pastoral ministry were especially likely to respond as such (86%).

Evaluations of Parish and Ministry
Half of all parish leaders (50%) evaluate their overall satisfaction with their parish as “excellent.” Another 41% say this is “good.” Non-Anglo parish leaders were more likely to evaluate their parish overall as “good” rather than “excellent’ (48% compared to 36%) and more in this group provided “fair” (13%) and “poor” evaluations (4%). Just three in ten leaders (31%) in the smallest parishes, those with 200 or fewer registered households, evaluate their parish overall as “excellent.”

Leaders are most likely to evaluate their parishes as “good” or “excellent” for the following aspects: celebration of the sacraments, Masses and liturgies, efforts to educate parishioners in the faith, and promoting important Church teachings and causes. 
The area where respondents were least likely to provide a “good” or “excellent” or evaluation is in their parish’s effort to spread the Gospel and evangelize.

Leaders in multi-parish ministry parishes were especially likely to provide an “excellent” evaluation for their parish’s sense of community (55%). Hispanic/Latino(a) parish leaders were among the most likely to give their parish only “fair” or “poor” marks for this aspect of parish life (22%). At the same time, leaders in Midwestern (51%) and Southern (48%) parishes were more likely than those in the Northeast (37%) and West (28%) to evaluate the sense of community in their parish as “excellent.”

Others differ on their parish’s sense of hospitality as well. Only 38% of Millennial leaders and 41% of Hispanic leaders provide an “excellent” evaluation for their parish’s hospitality and sense of welcome. A majority of Millennials (54%) say this is “poor” or “fair” (46% “fair” and 8% “poor”).

Younger leaders—those of the Millennial Generation—are much more positive about one of the most important aspects of parish life. They are among the most likely to provide an “excellent” evaluation for their parish’s Masses and liturgies (69%).

Others are more pessimistic about sacraments in their parish. Non-Anglo and PLC parish leaders are among the least likely to evaluate their parish as “excellent” for the celebration of sacraments (58% and 55%, respectively). In PLC parishes, this may be due to these parishes having a lack of priests in residence.

Turning to more specific aspects of parish life, leaders are most likely to say their parish is “somewhat” or “very much” successful at managing parish finances, recruiting and retaining ministers and staff, communicating with parishioners, and educating parishioners in the faith.
Leaders are least likely to indicate their parish is at least “somewhat” successful at celebrating cultural diversity, providing Mass in preferred languages, ministering to young adults, outreach to inactive Catholics, and ministering to recent immigrants.

Millennial leaders are among the more negative in evaluating some these aspects. They are among the least likely to say their parish is at least “somewhat” successful at: communicating with parishioners (69 %), welcoming new parishioners (54%), listening to parishioner concerns and input (54%), ministering to young adults (40%), celebrating cultural diversity (39%), collaborating with other parishes (39%), and outreach to inactive Catholics (25%).

Non-Anglo leaders are among the most likely to say their parish is “very much” successful at celebrating cultural diversity (50%), providing cultural, ethnic, or national celebrations important to parishioners (53%), providing Mass in preferred languages (52%), and ministering to recent immigrants (21%).

There are several sub-group differences in parish evaluations of these aspects related to parish structure: 
  • Leaders in consolidated parishes are the least likely to say their parish is “somewhat” or “very much” successful in recruiting and retaining ministers and staff (50%). On the other hand, these leaders are among the most likely to say their parish is at least “somewhat” successful at ministering to those in financial need (76%) and outreach to inactive Catholics (64%).
  • Those in multi-parish ministry parishes are the most likely to say their parish is “somewhat” or “very much” successful at welcoming new parishioners (95%).
  • Leaders in PLC parishes are among the least likely to indicate their parish is at least “somewhat” successful at listening to parishioner concerns and input (77%), effectively using committees or councils (68%), ministering to the elderly (63%), providing social activities and programs (61%), and collaborating with other parishes (53%).
  • Those in multicultural parishes are among the most likely to say their parish is “somewhat” or “very much” successful at celebrating cultural diversity (71%), providing cultural, ethnic, or national celebrations (75%), and providing Mass in preferred languages (67%).

About half of all leaders agree “very much” that their parish has undergone significant changes in the last five years. However, most do not see this as a change for the worse with just 13% of leaders agreeing “very much” that things were better in their parish five years ago.

Leaders in PLC parishes are most likely to agree “very much” that significant changes have occurred in their parish (67%). Yet only 4% of these leaders agree “very much” that things were better in their parish five years ago.

Half of all respondents agree at least “somewhat” that their parish is multicultural. As one might expect, this is more common in parishes identified as being multicultural by the study (73%). Non-Anglo (74%) and Hispanic/Latino(a) (75%) leaders are also very likely to agree at least “somewhat” that their parish is multicultural. More than half of leaders (55%) agree at least “somewhat” that parishioners of different cultures participate in parish life together. Leaders in multicultural parishes (65%) and PLC parishes (67%) are more likely to respond as such.

Parish Restructuring
Leaders in parishes that have experienced reorganization in the last five years (i.e., transition to multi-parish ministry or consolidation) were provided with a separate set of questions specific to these events. Of these leaders, 63% had experienced the reorganization themselves and responded to these questions.

Only 22% indicated that their role in ministry changed before or after the transition. Remarkably, these respondents also reported relative stability in a variety of different aspects of parish life. As shown in the table below, however, some reported less support from their diocese. Some also note a decrease in the willingness of parishioners to volunteer and to generally be involved.
Yet, many reported increases in the sense of community among parishioners and collaboration among parish leaders and staff. More personally, nearly three in ten reported an increase in their personal effectiveness. However, this may have led to working longer hours for some who noted increases in time spent on administrative responsibilities, their primary ministry, and on planning and coordination.

Few indicate they received any specialized training before these reorganizations. However, those that did tend to consider this to have been useful. In an open-ended question about best practices they could recommend the second most common recommendation were related to preparation, of which a common sub-topic was training (the most common topic noted in responses was about the need for communication).

In considering what was difficult about the reorganization, leaders were most likely to agree at least “somewhat” that the following have been an issue since reorganization: unhappiness of parishioners (50%), finding enough volunteers (43%), and interaction of parishioners from other parishes (38%). A majority, 54% agree only “a little” or “not at all” with the statement that there was little opposition to the changes brought by the reorganization (just 7% agree “very much”).

Use of Technology
More than three in four parish leaders agree “somewhat” or “very much” that their parish uses new technology and media effectively (36% agree “very much” only). 


Leaders in larger parishes are more likely to indicate this—likely because they may have more resources to use new technologies and media.

Ninety-four percent indicate their parish has a website and among leaders in parishes that do, half report that they provide content for the website. This is more common among younger (77% of Millennials) and female (61%) parish leaders. Two-thirds (66%) indicate their parish provides them with an email address. This is less common among non-Anglo parish leaders (52%) and those in PLC parishes (37%).  

Use of new media and social networks for ministry is most common among the youngest parish leaders. Nearly four in ten Millennials use Facebook (39%) and YouTube (39%) for ministry in their parish. Three in ten Millennials use blogs (31%) and Twitter (31%).

Visit emergingmodels.org to download the full report.

8.11.2012

Republican, Catholic, and on a Presidential Ticket


Gov. Mitt Romney’s selection today of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as a running mate ensures that there will be a Catholic VP no matter what the outcome of Election 2012. Ryan is the first Catholic on a Republican ticket since 1964 when Rep. William Miller was Sen. Barry Goldwater’s running mate. This is also the first time in history a major U.S. party is putting a slate forward without a Protestant on the ballot.

Although Rep. Ryan is a bit of a household name in DC circles and was even a runner-up Time Person of the Year in 2011, many Americans are mostly unfamiliar with the seven term House member. It will be interesting to see how polls this week gauge the public’s response.

Rep. Ryan’s profile was elevated in the last few years with the U.S. dealing with issues related to rising debt. He has been one of the most active members in Congress in developing a plan to deal with this issue. Many in the media have been commenting that it is this work that makes Democrats “happy” with Romney’s selection. I wouldn’t be so sure about Ryan’s plan being a huge liability (...although as a political scientist I believe a different set of reforms would be preferable). First, Romney has been clear that he is not adopting the plan as part of his campaign. Second, many Americans recognize that debt is an issue that will have to be tackled and soon. Democrats have largely avoided the topic—failing to create a budget in the Senate in recent years while $5 trillion in new debt has been added during President Obama’s tenure.

Eight in ten Americans (80%) say they believe Medicare needs at least some modification (they are right… otherwise the program will be bankrupt in 2024). Forty-three percent believe the program needs either a complete overhaul or major changes. As the figure below shows, only one in five Catholics (19%) don’t think Medicare needs changes. 


I’ve already heard many pundits say Ryan wants to “end Medicare as we know it.” I guess it all depends on what one means by “as we know it.” Most Americans are accepting of changes to the program (certainly not an “end” though). Any politician who makes the case that no changes are needed is not being honest. The real debate is about what those changes will come to be.

Last spring, when debate over Rep. Ryan’s proposal was in the news many Americans don’t seem to have been paying close attention. At that time, one in four Americans (24%) supported Ryan’s plan, 7% opposed it and most, 68%, didn’t know enough to say if they supported or opposed it (there are few differences by religious affiliation). 


One of the plan’s more shrewd features is that it attempts to ease the worry of current seniors by restricting the changes to people a decade or more away from retirement. This may have limited the public stir caused by the plan (…and the fact that none of the Kardashians mentioned it on a reality TV show! Religion is not the “opiate of the masses” but I’m pretty sure pop culture is. As Gallup and Pew note there are few news stories that even a majority of the public pay very close attention to any more).

Not only did many not know about Ryan’s plan last summer, they also didn’t know him enough to have an opinion of him personally either. Among all Americans his positives and negatives were balanced. Among the religiously affiliated he has been viewed more positively. More Nones (those without a religious affiliation) have had a negative opinion of him.  


Most people just didn’t recognize his name or were unsure of their opinion about him. Think things must have changed in recent months? CNN measured his approval in a June 2012 poll and 56% of respondents said they’d “never heard of him” (40%) or had “no opinion” (16%) of him (24% approved and 20% disapproved).

That is all about to change. The Saturday morning announcement is odd timing (during the final weekend of the Summer Olympics no less). It may not be until late this week that public opinion includes sufficient knowledge of Rep. Ryan to accurately gauge the impact of the pick. I’m betting we hear a lot this week about Medicare, the deficit, Ryan’s affinity for Ayn Rand, and perhaps even a bit about Catholic bishops who have been publicly critical of some of his budget plans. Maybe we’ll even see a campaign ad from the president that is not about Bain Capital (I live in a “swing state” and I would welcome more variety… not that it really matters to me as I am an apolitical political scientist who just observes). I've heard a few Democratic pundits question his experience. Seems a bit odd to me. How less experienced is he now than President Obama was before being elected in 2008? I don't see that argument going far. Regardless, today may very well be the first day in a long career of presidential politics for Ryan. Historically, that has been rare for a person who is a Republican and a Catholic.  

Above photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore at Flickr Creative Commons.

8.03.2012

Checking in with Catholics and Election 2012

It's been too long since we've looked at any election data. With less than 100 days to go, now seems like a good time to see what is going on in the Catholic electorate. As a political scientist I can still say, in many ways, it is far too early. We don't know the impact of the selection of a running mate for the Republicans, both conventions are key, and the debates could provide turning points. Not to mention changes in the economy or foreign affairs could alter the election calculus (...does anything matter before Saturday Night Live begins to run their parodies?).


What it is not too early to say is that the race is largely over in 34 states and the District of Columbia. Polling data and voting trends over time lead us to believe these states are already "locked in." Outcomes here could only be altered by a very dramatic event. In 16 states, the race remains competitive and my analysis is on the "open-minded" side! For example, I'm leaving Georgia competitive because President Obama has 45% approval here and the Real Clear Politics polling average puts it in the "leaning Republican" column. Similarly, I still have Oregon as competitive because President Obama's approval there is 47 percent and this state is in the "leaning Democrat" column with the Real Clear Politics polling average. Many analysts would argue that fewer states are in play.

There are an estimated 17,225,000 self-identified Catholic adults living in what I consider to be competitive states (equivalent to 31% of the national Catholic voting age population or VAP). Some of these individuals are not in the voting eligible population (VEP) due to lack of citizenship but it is not possible to estimate the size of this population specifically for Catholics.

Geography matters as Catholics only make up 19% of the total VAP in competitive states (the total VAP in these states is 89.8 million). In recent elections, Catholics have made up about 25% of the total electorate. The full and final "weight" of the Catholic vote in the most competitive states will depend on turnout as well.

What does the potential Catholic electorate look like in competitive states? First, it is important to note that aggregating polls is always recommended, when possible. As the figure below shows, there is substantial variation and volatility in estimates of party identification (among the strongest predictors of presidential vote choice) in election polls. Note the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll from last week had among the highest percentages of Democrats and lowest percentages of Republicans, whereas a recent Fox News poll had a more even distribution.


In the 20 most recent publicly available election polls I can review (via iPoll), on average, the U.S. electorate overall (Catholic and non-Catholic) is 34% Democrat and 27% Republican. Thus, President Obama has two key advantages in that he is an incumbent and he has a 7 percentage point partisan advantage in the electorate. Polls indicating advantages of more than a 12 percentage point difference in party ID in the overall electorate are likely straying into outlier territory.

The most recent survey I can analyze (...the actual data set, where I can isolate Catholics rather than just read national toplines or news releases) is from Gallup in June. The data reveal that Catholics are divided along partisan and ideological lines in both competitive and non-competitive states.


Differences in the figure above are within sub-group margins of sampling error (...which are larger than one would prefer due to smaller numbers of respondents in competitive states). This figure uses Gallup's combination of ideology and partisanship (including party "leaners"). I find this especially useful for analyses of Catholics as the Church's priorities are split between the U.S. parties and American political ideologies. The Church's stance on the death penalty, immigration, and fighting poverty are arguably more aligned with liberal thinkers and Democrats. The Church's stance on abortion, same-sex marriage, and religious liberty are arguably more consistent with conservative thinkers and Republicans. Thus, you may often see a conservative Democrat or a moderate Republican expressing opinions that are very consistent overall with the Bishops' Faithful Citizenship document. Collectively, conservative Democrats and moderate/liberal Republicans make up 28% of Catholics in competitive states (27% in non-competitive states).

Although margins of error are large, it does appear that conservative Republicans likely outnumber liberal Democrats among Catholics in competitive states. Some of the other characteristics of potential Catholic voters in competitive states are shown in the table below:

  • An estimated 71% of Catholics of voting age in competitive states are currently registered to vote (68% are registered nationally). Protestants, inside and outside of competitive states, are the religious group with the highest registration numbers (80%).
  • A majority of Catholics in competitive states (55%) say religion is an important part of their daily life. About one in four (24%) attends Mass every week (CARA adjusted percentage; consistent with our own polling nationally). In recent history, weekly Mass attenders lean Republican.
  • One in five Catholics (21%) in competitive states has served in the military at some point in their life. In past elections, members of the military and veterans have tended to lean Republican. 
  • Eleven percent of Catholic adults in competitive states are either unemployed and looking for work or working part-time with a preference for full-time work. These Catholics may lean Republican, dissatisfied with sustained high unemployment rates that have been unprecedented in the post-World War II era.
  • Five percent of Catholics in competitive states are members of a labor union. In past elections, union members have tended to lean Democratic.
  • Updated (results not shown in table above): Twelve percent of adult Catholics in competitive states self-identify as Hispanic/Latino(a). By comparison, 34% of adult Catholics in non-competitive states self-identify as Hispanic/Latino(a). Catholics who self-identify as Hispanic/Latino(a) lean Democratic (...more research on this, including a CARA contribution, is available here).
  • Fourteen percent of Catholics in competitive states work for the local, state, or federal government. Many of these Catholic public sector workers indicate working for the federal government.
  • Half of Catholics (49%) in competitive states say the economic conditions in their local area are “only fair” or “poor.” Six in ten (60%) are this negative about the economy in their state. Nearly three in four (73%) say that economic conditions nationally are “only fair” or “poor.”

Catholics make up the largest share of the voting age population in the following four competitive states: New Mexico (32%), New Hampshire (30%), Pennsylvania (30%), and Wisconsin (29%). Most analysts have these states "leaning" Democrat. Most consider the hottest battlegrounds to be Ohio, Virginia, and Florida. I'd add Nevada to that mix as well in my own Electoral College scenarios (...perhaps New Hampshire also). Catholics could be an important "swing vote" in Nevada, Florida, and Ohio but make up a much smaller share of the potential electorate in Virginia.

Most recent polls are showing Catholics split between the candidates in vote choice. Again I don't make much of these yet with so many important milestones ahead. But it is clear that there is unlikely to be a "Catholic Vote" in 2012 and instead we will be focusing on how the vote of Catholics may or may not be important (...the votes of those without a religious affiliation may be more decisive to the election outcome).

Pew released a glimpse of Catholics possibly coming together on an issue important to the Church this week. But don't look for it in your newspaper. Almost every religion reporter I know of ignored it. However, if a tree falls and a reporter doesn't write about it you could still trip over the stump. Republicans may be happy to hear that...
  • "By a 56% to 36% margin, Catholics who are aware of the bishops’ protests about what they believe are infringements of religious liberty say they agree with the bishops’ concerns."
  • "The percentage of Catholics saying they are satisfied with the leadership of American bishops has increased sharply since 2002."
Yet, in that same poll Pew also reveals something that will likely please Democrats...
  • "[W]while most Catholics who are aware of the bishops’ protests agree with their concerns, about half of Catholic voters (51%) say Barack Obama best reflects their views on social issues such as abortion and gay rights; 34% say Mitt Romney best reflects their views on these issues."
  • "Currently, 51% of Catholic registered voters support Obama or lean toward him, while 42% support Romney or lean toward him."

Stay tuned. As election season kicks into high gear we'll certainly have more analysis on the vote of Catholics in 2012...

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