Poll Results

Aug. 5-18, 2004
Poll Results
By Kristen Fox / SUN  Staff Writer
Most Recent Le Moyne College/Zogby Poll Reflects latest Catholic Trends

As part of its ongoing polling to track American Catholics’ views on important issues, the Le Moyne College/Zogby International Contemporary Catholic Trends (CCT) Poll released its latest findings on July 7. The results covered American Catholics’ positions on stem cell research, President George W. Bush’s approval rating, same sex marriage and U.S. bishops’ approval rating.

According to the survey, which started in fall 2001 and is believed to be the only longitudinal study of American Catholics’ views on church and public policy, 44 percent of American Catholics support President Bush for re-election while 39 percent support John Kerry for president. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percent. President Bush’s approval rates have fallen considerably since American Catholic registered voters were surveyed in the first CCT Poll in October 2001. Over 41 percent of Catholics surveyed feel that President Bush deserves re-election, while 51 percent say it’s time for change. However, the president’s declining support does not translate into strength for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, said Susan Behuniak, professor of political science at Le Moyne, who worked on the poll.

“Although more Catholics are saying they don’t want to vote for Bush, Kerry hasn’t given them a reason to vote for him,” said Behuniak. “Bush is losing support, but it isn’t helping Kerry.” Findings from the poll, whose latest survey was conducted in May 2004, also determined that Catholics are ambivalent on stem cell research. The stem cell debate has recently been re-ignited in light of the death of former President Ronald Reagan. The CCT survey showed that a majority of American Catholics (73 percent) support adult stem cell research. But when it comes to embryonic stem cell research, more than 63 percent feel that derivation and use of embryonic stem cells is morally wrong.

While fewer than 40 percent of survey respondents approved of federal or corporate funding for embryonic stem cell research, 45 percent would accept medical treatment based on embryonic stem cells. Theresa Beaty, associate professor of chemistry and physics at Le Moyne, shared her thoughts on the stem-cell results. “American Catholics seem to judge the merits of stem cell therapy more on the basis of the source of the stem cells than on the therapy itself,” Beaty said. “In that regard, they’re not that different from the general public whose support is overall stronger for adult stem cell research.”

The CCT Poll also examined American Catholics’ views on gay and lesbian marriages. American Catholics showed weak support for the state’s allowing legal marriage and the church’s allowing sacramental marriage for same-sex couples. While nearly 33 percent of those surveyed agreed that gay and lesbian couples should be able to legally marry (22 percent strongly agreed; 11 percent somewhat agreed) support was weaker for the Catholic Church allowing sacramental marriage for gay and lesbian couples (slightly more than 20 percent agreed with such a proposal; 12 percent strongly agreed and 8 percent somewhat agreed).

While the same questions were asked of Catholics in the fall of 2003, comparisons show that in a very short period of time, Catholics are becoming less tolerant of gay and lesbian marriages. The traditional views on the legal and sacramental use of the term “marriage” were reflected in American Catholics’ support for a constitutional amendment defining marriage to be only between one man and one woman. Overall 58 percent agreed with the proposed amendment. On the other hand, American Catholics expressed strong support for allowing gay and lesbian couples to form civil unions –– which provide all the legal rights and obligations of marriage without actually being called married –– with the majority (62 percent) agreeing with such a proposal. Since October 2001, CCT has tracked American Catholics’ agreement or disagreement with how well the U.S. bishops are leading the American church. The survey of nearly 1,400 people in late May showed the bishops’ approval rating has dropped to the lowest level since the clergy abuse scandal began in early 2002. The 58 percent approval rating is down from 83 percent in fall 2001, before the scandal drew national attention.

At the height of the scandal, in spring 2002, 68 percent of American Catholics approved of how bishops were leading the church. The declining approval rating suggests that American Catholics question how the bishops are handling the sexual abuse sandal, said Behuniak. “There seemed to be a strong consensus to hold the church to its legal obligations,” she said. Several of the survey’s questions focused on the legal issues stemming from the sex abuse scandal within the Catholic Church. While there was strong consensus for holding the church to due process requirements such as the reporting of cases of abuse to legal authorities and following the rules of discovery, there was disagreement about concrete implications such as damages and the seal of the confessional. For example, while 74% of respondents strongly agreed that clergy should be compelled to testify about non-confessional sources of information, only 33% strongly agreed that clergy should testify what they know based on the confession of a victim. In addition, about 39 percent say punitive damages in clerical sex abuse cases should be limited to the amount of actual damages; yet CCT Poll also found 28 percent said there should be no limit on punitive damages.

“There’s a struggle about how to be fair to victims under the rules of law and how to protect the church so it’s not destroyed because of the monetary damages,” said Behuniak. For more information on results from the poll, visit www.zogby.com.

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