A new national survey of likely voters shows a sharp contrast among Catholics, the nation's largest religious group and one with significant membership in swing states such as Florida and Ohio, when it comes to choosing between President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

The American Values Survey, released Monday by the Washington-based Public Religion Research Institute, found that overall, likely Catholic voters are divided between the two candidates -- with 49 percent favoring Obama and 47 percent favoring Romney -- but differ greatly when broken down by race and religiosity.

A slight majority of white Catholics (54 percent) said they preferred Romney, while a significant majority of Hispanic Catholics (70 percent) said they favor Obama. Among Catholic voters who attend church at least weekly, six out of 10 said they supported Romney, while among those who attend church once a month or less, six out of 10 said they supported Obama.

There are about 77 million Catholics in the U.S. About 35 million voted four years ago, making up 27 percent of the popular vote. Obama won 54 percent of Catholic votes that year.

The winner of the majority of Catholics' votes has won the popular vote in presidential races for the past 40 years, but the study's authors emphasized that the faith group is anything but unified in its political views.

“The survey confirms that there is no such thing as 'the Catholic vote,'" said Robert P. Jones, PRRI CEO and co-author of the report. "There are a number of critical divisions among Catholics, including an important divide between 'social justice' and 'right to life' Catholics."

Obama, who is pro-choice, has been strongly criticized by Catholic bishops for his health care law's requirement that most religious institutions, including hospitals and schools, provide employees with birth control with no co-pay as part of insurance plans. Earlier this year, the Obama administration revised the rules to put the burden of paying for contraception coverage solely on insurance companies, but many Catholic institutions have protested because they are self-insured.

Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic, has faced the same criticism from conservative Catholics, who have also criticized his and Obama's support of same-sex marriage rights.

Romney, who called himself pro-choice in previous campaigns but more recently identifies as pro-life, has said he believes that the Obama's contraception mandate violates religious freedom. His Catholic running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), has been criticized by bishops for his controversial budget plan that would cut government programs that aid the poor.

At least 30 lawsuits have been filed by Catholic and evangelical hospitals, universities, businesses and dioceses against the Obama administration's contraception mandate on the grounds of violations of religious freedom. The survey found that nearly 60 percent of Americans said that "religious liberty is being threatened in America today," including almost 80 percent of white evangelicals and nearly 60 percent of white Catholics.

But specifically on the contraception mandate, 56 percent of those surveyed said religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals should be required to provide employees with health care plans that cover contraception or birth control at no cost. That included majorities of white Protestants (54 percent) and the overall Catholic population. In contrast, majorities of white evangelicals (56 percent) and white Catholics (51 percent) said the opposite.

On the church's role in public policy, the survey found that 60 percent of Catholics believe it "should focus more on social justice and the obligation to help the poor, even if it means focusing less on issues like abortion and the right to life," while 31 percent said the opposite. Sixty percent of "social justice" Catholics support Obama, the survey found, while 67 percent of "right to life" Catholics support Romney.

"Even among Catholics who attend church once a week or more, a group that is often considered more socially conservative, a majority believe the Catholic Church should emphasize issues related to justice and our obligations to the poor," said E.J. Dionne, Jr., Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and a co-author of the report.

The survey results were based on 3,003 bilingual telephone interviews of adults in the U.S. conducted between Sept. 13 and Sept. 30.

Click through the slideshow to see most and least Catholic states in the United States:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Massachusetts

    44,905 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Rhode Island

    44330 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • New Jersey

    36,799 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Connecticut

    35056 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • New York

    32443 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Illinois

    28439 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • New Mexico

    28407 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Pennsylvania

    27578 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • California

    27469 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Louisiana

    26490 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Wisconsin

    25,066 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • North Dakota

    24,881 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • New Hampshire

    23,626 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Minnesota

    21,689 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Vermont

    20,503 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Nebraska

    20,414 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Delaware

    20,328 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Texas

    18,586 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Hawaii

    18,350 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • South Dakota

    18,286 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Michigan

    17,375 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Ohio

    17,272 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Nevada

    16,703 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Iowa

    16514 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Colorado

    16138 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Kansas

    14952 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Arizona

    14549 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Maryland

    14503 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Maine

    14311 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Florida

    13371 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Montana

    12898 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • District of Columbia

    12622 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Missouri

    12094 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Washington

    11664 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Indiana

    11532 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Wyoming

    10862 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Oregon

    10408 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Virginia

    8422 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Kentucky

    8291 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Idaho

    7872 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Alaska

    7162 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Georgia

    6156 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Utah

    5793 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • West Virginia

    5173 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Oklahoma

    4756 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Arkansas

    4206 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Alabama

    4198 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • North Carolina

    4121 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • South Carolina

    3929 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Mississippi

    3791 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

  • Tennessee

    3504 Catholic adherents per 100,000 people.

Also on HuffPost: