That President Joe Biden’s is the second Catholic U.S. president is less in dispute among Americans than the practice of his faith, according to a poll released March 30 by the Pew Research Center.
Fifty-eight percent of Americans identified Biden as Catholic in the poll, with 63% of Democrats and Americans who lean Democratic, and 55% of Republicans and those who lean Republican, saying as much. Only 6% thought Biden is Protestant, and 31% replied they weren’t sure.
But a cleave has developed between Catholics who identify with one of the two major political parties. Among Catholic Democrats, 89% say Biden is at least somewhat religious, with 51% saying he is “very” religious. But 63% of Catholic Republicans say Biden is either “not too religious” or “not at all religious.”
In the poll, “insulting comments” about Biden as a “fake Catholic” or a “Catholic in name only” were uttered by “a handful of Republicans,” Pew said in the third paragraph of its report, “Most Democrats and Republicans Know Biden Is Catholic, but They Differ Sharply About How Religious He Is.”
Moreover, 55% of Catholic Republicans said “Biden’s views about abortion should disqualify him from receiving Communion in the Catholic Church,” the poll found. Biden supports legal abortion and has said the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade should be “the law of the land.” But only 11% of Catholic Dems share that view, with 87% saying Biden’s political views should not result in a ban on him receiving Communion.
The poll was conducted March 1-7 among 12,055 U.S. adults in Pew’s online American Trends Panel, including 2,492 who identified themselves as Catholic. The margin of error for the full poll is plus or minus 1.5 percentage points, and 3.4 percentage points for Catholic respondents.
When asked about a generic politician’s abortion views, 67% of Catholics said a view contrary to church teaching should not render the pol ineligible for Communion, while 29% said the politician should be barred from the Eucharist. Republicans agreed with Democrats, but only by the narrowest of margins, 50%-49%.
The numbers who say a politician should be denied Communion shrink for positions on other issues that have at times run up against church teaching: 19% on homosexuality; 18% on the death penalty — here, a larger percentage of Catholic Republicans (19%) than Democrats (17%) said this should bar a politician from Communion; and 9% on immigration.
Pew said 71% of Catholic Democrats said politicians should be able to continue receiving Communion even if they disagree with the church on a variety of issues.
Biden has made references to his faith fairly frequently, including his Jan. 20 inaugural address — given just hours after going to Mass in Washington accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris and Senate and House leaders from both parties. He also referenced his faith in his Nov. 7 victory speech.
Pew found that 61% of Americans said Biden talks “about the right amount” about his religion. Fourteen percent said he talks about it too much, while 21% said he talks about it too little. The two groups with the highest percentages that said Biden talks too little about his faith were evangelicals, 39%, and Republicans, 33%. The two groups that said he talks too much about religion are atheists and agnostics, 28%, and — again — members of the GOP, 20%.
Biden’s Catholicism did not come into play so much when he was vice president, serving with President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2017. This is holding true for Harris. A plurality of 46% in the Pew poll said they believe Harris is somewhat or very religious, while 41% said is not very, or not at all, religious.
When asked about her religious affiliation, “not sure” was the most popular response at 65%, followed by Protestant at 12%, “nothing in particular” at 6%, and Catholic at 5%. Harris identifies as Baptist, which was not a choice offered in the poll.