Despite the uproar in the Catholic community surrounding the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate — 37 lawsuits filed since last November — a new survey from the Public Religion Research Institute shows that 49 percent of likely Catholic voters favor President Barack Obama, while 47 percent favored Gov. Mitt Romney.
The survey was formally introduced to the public Tuesday by a panel of researchers at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.
“The Catholic vote is highly complex,” according to the survey, which found “strong differences” between the group labeled “traditionalist Catholics,” who believe that the church should preserve its traditional beliefs and practices, and “adaptive Catholics,” those who believe it should adjust or alter traditional beliefs and practices in light of contemporary culture.
“There is no such thing as ‘the Catholic vote,'” said PRRI CEO and report co-author Robert P. Jones.
Despite Obama’s overall lead, white Catholic voters were more likely to prefer Romney (54 percent) over Obama (42 percent).
“There are a number of critical divisions among Catholics, including an important divide between ‘social justice’ and ‘right to life’ Catholics,” Jones said. (RELATED: Group accuses Democrats of being anti-Catholic)
The study showed that a majority of both white Catholics (56 percent) and Catholics overall (53 percent) believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
By contrast, 64 percent of white evangelical protestants and 55 percent of Hispanic Catholics believe that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.
The media is “fixated on the abortion issue, as if that’s the only thing that Catholics care about. But in fact it’s really a minority issue,” said Michele Dillon, professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire.
The survey also revealed that a group of Americans labeled “religiously unaffiliated” is the fastest growing group in the religious landscape of America. It has doubled in size since 1990.
Among that group, Obama leads Romney 73 to 22 percent. Over 81 percent atheistic and agnostic voters support Obama, along with 67 percent of secular voters.
The survey is conducted annually by the Public Religion Research Institute and this year “takes a particularly close look at previously overlooked subgroups among Catholic and religiously unaffiliated voters, which have critical implications for both parties’ campaign strategies.”