President Biden walked on stage in the dark of the Howard Theatre and declared the coming midterms, then just three weeks away, “the most consequential election in our history.” Insisting that abortion was on the ballot this year, Biden promised that if Democrats kept their majorities, they would codify Roe v. Wade in federal law.
“I want to remind us all how we felt that day,” Biden told a congregation gathered by the Democratic National Committee of the Supreme Court decision to repeal Roe. “The anger, the worry, the disbelief.” He added, “If you care about the right to choose, you got to vote.”
It was a call to action from the man who is only the second Roman Catholic president in U.S. history – and America’s first and only pro-choice Catholic president. But in swing states Democrats must win if they are to preserve their Senate majority, and on the eve of the midterms, a majority of Catholic voters do not necessarily share the president’s priorities.
A new RealClear Opinion Research poll, done in concert with Catholic television network EWTN, shows that a majority of Catholic voters in six key battleground states would rather let states determine abortion policy; believe that the economy remains the most significant concern for the country; and generally favor Republican challengers and incumbents in the coming electoral contests.
Topline findings: Full polling breakdown
Those results are significant given that Catholic voters, who make up roughly one-fourth of the U.S. electorate, were an influential demographic in the last presidential election. With the Senate split 50-50, they may be positioned not just to determine who controls that body, but also to help define the next two years of Biden’s first term. Democrats currently hold the Senate only by virtue of the fact that Vice President Kamala Harris casts the deciding vote in case of a tie. If Republicans net one seat, they take control of that body and perhaps the destiny of the White House legislative agenda.
Sen. Raphael Warnock was widely considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for reelection this year. Allegations that challenger Herschel Walker paid for a girlfriend’s abortion, however, seemed to put Republicans on the back foot. With Election Day only two weeks away, the race is a toss-up, with Warnock leading Walker by just one percentage point in the RealClearPolitics polling average.
But recent headlines have not swayed the Catholic electorate in Georgia. Among these voters, Walker leads Warnock 64.7% to 32.7%. In the governor’s race there, they also favor incumbent Republican Brian Kemp, 67.1%, over Democrat Stacey Abrams, 31.1%.
Biden is seriously underwater among Georgia Catholics, as more than two-thirds (68%) disapprove of his performance in office while only 30% approve. An overwhelming majority, 59.6%, believe abortion should be decided by the people through their elected representatives or ballot initiatives rather than the courts. Just 6.4% say that the issue is the most important facing the country right now, compared to 67.1% who identify economic issues as their top concern.
Pennsylvania may prove the best chance for the Democrats to pick up a Senate seat this year. Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz currently trails Lt. Gov. John Fetterman in the RCP average by 1.3 points. And even though a majority of Catholic voters, 56.5%, don’t approve of Biden’s job performance, they favor the Republican Senate candidate by a smaller margin: 50.7% support Oz while 45.2% are backing Fetterman.
At least in the Keystone state, Catholic voters seem prepared to split the ticket. A majority support the Democrat in the race for governor: Josh Shapiro leads Republican Doug Mastriano 50.8% to 44.5% on the eve of the election.
The economy is the driving factor among Catholic voters in Pennsylvania, although abortion remains a significant factor. A majority, 60.6%, identified jobs, inflation, and rising interest rates as the top concerns facing the nation, while nearly 10% say the abortion issue is the chief challenge.
A majority of Catholics there, 55.7%, still would like to see the abortion issue handled by elected representatives and through ballot initiatives, rather than through the courts.
This state has been viewed as a pick-up opportunity for Republicans, and Sen. Mark Kelly remains at risk there, but his challenger Blake Masters has never wrested away the lead. The Democrat has, however, seen his advantage shrink steadily. Kelly leads Masters by just 2.5 points.
Among Arizona Catholics, the race is also tight. They favor Masters by a margin of about five percentage points over Kelly, 51.4% to 46.3%. The numbers are similar in the governor’s race, where 52.5% of that electorate backs broadcaster Kari Lake over Secretary of State Katie Hobbs with 46.9%.
The president is not popular among Arizona Catholics. A clear majority, 58.5%, disapprove of the way he does his job compared to 39.5% who approve, meaning that he may turn off more Catholics than he draws to the polls.
Abortion is not a top concern for these voters. Only 7.6% identify the issue as the most important facing the nation, and 60% want abortion policy determined at the state level through elected representatives and ballot referenda.
Catholic voters in Arizona are much more concerned about the state of the economy, with 58.5% identifying jobs, inflation, and interest rates as the chief national problems. In this border state, immigration and border security rank second, with 14.2% of Catholics identifying it as their top concern.
Nevada may prove the most pivotal Senate race this cycle. Former Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt and Democrat Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto are running neck and neck in a race in which the RCP average has Laxalt’s margin as less than a single percentage point. This is the incumbent’s first reelection bid, and Nevada Catholics haven’t yet warmed up to the Democrat. A clear majority, 56.7%, favor Laxalt over Cortez Masto with 36.4%. The numbers are nearly identical in the governor’s race: 55.6% of Catholic voters favor Republican challenger Joe Lombardo over Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak with 34.2%.
Just 33% of Catholics in Nevada approve of Biden compared to 63.3% who disapprove. And even in this famously libertarian state, abortion is not a top concern. When asked to identify the most important issue facing the nation, 64.3% said economic issues, 12.4% replied with immigration and the border, and 10.3% pointed to climate change.
Only 5.4% said the top challenge facing the country today was abortion. As far as that issue is concerned, 59.8% said it should be dealt with at the local level through elected representatives.
For a while, Florida was seen as an opportunity for Democrats to go on the offense. But Sen. Marco Rubio has pulled away in the final stretch against Democratic challenger Rep. Val Demings and now leads in the RCP average by 6.4 points. Here, Catholics clearly favor the incumbent, supporting Rubio, 59.1%, over Demings, 36.9%. That preference for Republicans expands in the race for governor where 61.4% prefer Gov. Ron DeSantis over former Gov. Charlie Crist, 34.5%.
Catholic voters here are much more likely to identify economic concerns as a top priority over social issues. A whopping 67.6% say that economic issues are the top challenge compared to just 7% who identified abortion policy as the country’s chief concern. Overall, 59% want abortion policy to be set at the local level. The Catholic electorate has soured on Biden: Just 35.9% of these voters approve of the president, while 61.4% disapprove.
The open Ohio Senate race leans Republican, and here the GOP is on the defensive to preserve the seat vacated by retiring Sen. Rob Portman. J.D. Vance leads Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan by a slim 2.4-point margin.
If the race was up to Catholic voters, the seat would stay red. A majority, 55.5%, favor Vance over Ryan, 41%. Catholic voters are even more enthusiastic about backing a Republican in the governor’s race there. They much prefer Gov. Mike DeWine, 61.3%, over Democratic challenger Nan Whaley, 34.4%.
Just like their brethren in other swing states, Ohio Catholics have soured on the president. A sizable majority, 62.4%, do not believe Biden has done a good job in the White House. If they agree with him that the coming elections are the most important in recent memory, it isn’t for the same reason. Just 7.3% of Catholic voters believe that abortion is a top national concern, compared with 59.8% who identified the economy in that category.