"Catholics' voting patterns haven't followed the bishops for years. There's at least as good a chance that the bishops' statements could swing votes to Kerry as to Bush," he said.
Catholics have voted for the winner of the popular vote in the past five elections. But today's Catholic voters are different from those in 1960, who voted 4-1 for Kennedy.
Now, better educated and more affluent, many have become Republicans.
Kymberlee Ruffo, 33, a Catholic mother who attends Mass weekly and has children ages 13 and 8, said Bush is the candidate most in step with her traditional family values.
"I've always voted Republican, but I look more at the person than the party," she said. "I look for integrity, listen to what candidates say and see how they sound."
Georgetown University's Gillis said Bush is out of step with Catholic teaching on issues such as the death penalty, caring for the poor, a minimum wage increase and universal health care — virtues that resonate with liberal Catholics.
So it's no surprise that polls show Catholics split almost evenly between candidates.
Catholics make up 26 percent of the electorate and are heavily concentrated in the eight most populous states. Half of them are swing voters, said Luis Lugo, president of the Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life.
"If the election is close, Catholic swing voters could decide it," he said
Zogby said Kerry must not only win the Catholic vote but must do so by at least 10 points — as Bill Clinton did in 1992 and 1996 — to win the election.
It seems unlikely he will win the Catholic vote by 10. 10? Very unlikely.