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Looking beyond the polls to find Catholic news hooks in stories about 2022 midterms…

Looking beyond the polls to find Catholic news hooks in stories about 2022 midterms…
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Political news coverage is, in part, guided by polls.

There are dozens of them that come out every few days in reporters’ email inboxes trying to gauge the temperature of the electorate on any given politician or policy decisions. This is especially true in a presidential election year. it’s also true during the midterms, which will arrive on Nov. 8.

While mainstream pollsters took a hit for being inaccurate when Donald Trump won the White House in 2016, the polls roll on as the experts put them out, pundits dissect them and news coverage reports on what they mean.

Often lost in this horse-race coverage of who’s up and who’s down are the views of real people about issues that are, in many cases, larger than partisan politics.

However, an EWTN/RealClear Opinion poll, released on July 15, took a snapshot of what Catholics are thinking, at this point in time. I wrote about its major findings for Religion Unplugged. However, there was more to this survey than a one-day headline.

There are plenty of nuggets of data that could serve as a jumping off point for news coverage in the coming weeks and months.

Overall, the survey found, in the words of Matthew Bunson, executive editor of EWTN News:

This new EWTN News/RealClear Opinion Research poll finds that Catholics — like the majority of Americans — are dissatisfied with the direction of the country, have largely negative views about most of the institutions of government save for the Supreme Court, and are deeply concerned about attacks and vandalism against churches and pro-life clinics.

Below are five pieces of data that editors and reporters should consider for news coverage regarding Catholics and the coming elections:

*How education could motivate voters

This midterm election will be a real test regarding how politicians reacted to and handled the pandemic. While the pandemic continues, life has slowly returned to normal, but there remains some resentment over some of the policies put into place starting in March 2020.

This is particularly true among parents of schoolchildren, who saw their kids forced to be homeschooled as a result of social distancing measures to help stem the spread of the virus. At the same time, the spotlight on school boards and what children are taught, regarding race relations and sexuality, has also become a major issue.

The polling shows that schools are a major cause for concern among the Catholic electorate. For example, the EWTN/RealClear Opinion found that 90% of likely Catholic voters “believe parents should have more information about their child’s school curriculum.” At the same time, 65% of likely Catholic voters “believe parents should play a role in helping to determine what is taught in schools” and 68% “oppose K-12 school administrators hiding a student’s gender identity or a new name from that student’s parents.”

As a result, blue state voters could very well pull off some surprises as they vote in moderate Democrats and even Republicans to help stem some of these policy decisions.

A recent New York Post story about the fall in enrollment in city public schools explained how trends have benefitted charter schools. This is how the July 20 report opened:

While traditional public schools continue to “hemorrhage” students, New York City charter schools have seen increases in enrollment, a new study has found.

Enrollment at Department of Education schools plummeted 8.3% over the COVID-19 pandemic school years of 2020-21 and 2021-22, the report, released Wednesday by the city’s Independent Budget Office found.

Charters, meanwhile, saw their student population grow by 6.9%, the IOB said. Much of that increase came in 2020-21, with enrollment remaining relatively flat over the second school year impacted by the pandemic.

“For both years, the decline was exclusively in the city’s traditional public schools,” wrote the researchers.

Traditional public schools are operated by the DOE, while charter schools receive public funds but are privately operated.

What about Catholic schools? Did they see an increase? That’s a story worth exploring, especially since so many of them were forced to close in the years prior to the pandemic.

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President Joe Biden\u2019s approval rating is 36% among White Catholics but 59% among Hispanic Catholics and 72% among Black Catholics, according to a recent poll. @ClementeLisi highlights other findings of Catholic views on abortion, inflation and more:https://t.co/mfWtlWmjKA

&mdash; Religion Unplugged (@ReligionMag) July 20, 2022

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*How Hispanics plan to vote

There’s been plenty of news coverage, especially in the political press, about how Latino voters are moving away from the Democratic Party.

Is there a Catholic angle to this story or are these Latinos primarily evangelical and Pentecostal Protestants? There have been many stories on this subject, especially in the conservative press, but few have touched on a religion angle as to why, for example, Hispanics and new immigrants from Central and South America would vote for a party that supports Trump and tougher border control.

A July 17 CNN.com analysis piece by Harry Enten under the headline “Voters of color are backing the GOP at historic levels” hit on this electoral phenomenon without ever mentioning or exploring a faith angle. This is what the piece reported:

But while Democrats and Republicans may be further apart on policy than any of us can remember, that breakdown is not occurring along racial and gender lines as much as you might think.

The Times poll showed that Democrats were ahead by around 25 points among voters of color on the generic congressional ballot, which usually asks respondents some form of the following question: “If the elections for Congress were held today, would you vote for the Democratic or Republican party?” Democrats trailed among White voters on this same question by 10 points.

A 35-point racial gap is minuscule by historical standards.

I decided to investigate further by averaging polling data from CNN/SSRS, Fox, Marist College, Monmouth University and The New York Times.

The average showed Democrats up by 30 points among voters of color and losing White voters by 14 points — a somewhat larger 44-point racial gap but still historically small.

In fact, it’s the smallest divide this century.

For perspective, consider recent elections. The racial gap between White voters and voters of color in 2020 races for the US House was about 63 points, according to an average of CNN exit poll and Catalist data. It was about 64 points in the 2018 midterms.

Why? Faith voters, no matter their race or gender, find themselves increasingly at odds with progressive policy decisions, often on moral and cultural issues that affect their children and families. Visits to churches on Sunday after Mass, in both red and blue states, may yield insights about this voting trend.

*Importance of religious freedom

In a post-Dobbs world when the House and Senate is pushing bills trying to shore up gay marriage and right to contraception, the new front in the culture war could very well land in a familiar spot — fights about religious liberty and the First Amendment.

According to the EWTN/RealClear Opinion numbers, 82% of likely Catholic voters were found to be “more likely to vote for a candidate who supports religious freedom of people of faith.” Given how divided Catholics are on so many issues, like abortion, 82% represents a strong plurality. While religious freedom issues get scant or slanted coverage in the mainstream press, this could be another area where the Catholic electorate could help the GOP win local contests.

For example, politicians who try to push measures that would force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions would certainly experience backlash on Election Day. This is how Catholic News Agency delved into the issue on July 15:

Professed support for religious freedom appeared strong. About 82% of respondents said they were more likely to support a political candidate whose position was to “support the religious freedom of people of faith,” and 48% were much more likely.

At the same time, there appeared to be some inconsistencies. Catholic ethics opposes contraception, and Catholic leaders have been outspoken against mandates that Catholic organizations provide contraception in health insurance plants.

However, about 46% of the self-described Catholic likely voters said they were more likely to support a political candidate who supports “mandating that Catholic organizations provide insurance coverage for contraception to their employees.” Only 37% said they were less likely.

If the drug mandates are linked to abortion, respondents were less likely to support them. About 48% said they were less likely to back a candidate who supports “mandating that Catholic organizations provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs to their employees,” while 33% said they were more likely.

Mary FioRito, a Catholic commentator and Cardinal Francis George Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, said the survey results indicate “that voters realize that there are very strenuous efforts, in some cases, to force Catholic health care institutions, and to force Catholic people more generally, to engage in behavior that directly violates their consciences.”

For FioRito, the results suggest that the survey is “largely talking to people who are not well catechized.” She told CNA that adherence to Catholic teaching is “very much” tied to religious practice.

This is where the Catholic press excels and where the mainstream press tends to fall short. Experts and regular voters are key to digging into this issue. Get past putting the phrase “religious freedom” in scare quotes and actually cover the issue like the First Amendment right it is.

*Confusion regarding church teachings

This is a topic the mainstream press has largely ignored and the Catholic press has failed to break through, in terms of reaching those who don’t care about the traditions and teachings of the church.

It’s why the issue of President Joe Biden receiving Holy Communion received so much attention from everyone last year, even though the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has had a bigger problem on their hands — how to help Catholics grasp what the Eucharist represents and importance of going to Confession.

For example, the EWTN/RealClear Opinion poll found that 50% of likely Catholic voters “believe the Eucharist is the transformed body and blood of Christ rather than a symbol.” The same poll found that 73% of “Mass-attending (weekly+) Catholics believe the same.”

EWTN News Nightly held a great discussion on the issue that you can watch here. It’s the type of discussion that a Catholic news outlet can get into, but the mainstream press just isn’t interested in something they don’t understand. The Catholic press and mainstream news outlets need to cover this topic because it shows the mindset of so many voters and how Catholic teaching impacts a large swath of the electorate.

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Have there been any arrests so far in the 70+ attacks on Catholic churches and pro-life pregnancy centers? Here's what we know https://t.co/3ZR0gkB06K

&mdash; Kelsey Wicks (@justforkwicks) July 21, 2022

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*Church vandalism matters

Anyone who reads GetReligion can attest to the fact that we have been writing about the lack of mainstream news coverage, particularly by large national outlets, about the long list of attacks against churches and pro-life pregnancy centers in the weeks before and after Roe was overturned.

Catholics, no matter how devout they are, are concerned about this issue — even though it doesn’t seem to faze the news desks at places like The New York Times or Washington Post. The EWTN/RealClear Opinion survey found 84% of likely Catholic voters are “concerned about attacks on Catholic churches across the country.”

How frequent have these attacks been? CNA, once again, should be lauded for compiling a list with some updates. It was earlier this month that two churches were set on fire and a third vandalized in Bethesda, Maryland.

As you can see, polls can be used to investigate so many different angles to stories. When it comes to political news coverage, there needs to be more of a focus on people, places and issues and less on just the political-party numbers.

It’s easy to cover polls from a purely statistical angle. It’s harder to dig deeper, travel the country, listen to a variety of voices and really learn why people plan to vote the way they do.

FIRST IMAGE: Voting booths in Ohio set up for the 2020 presidential election. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

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