Nineteen Sixty-four is a research blog for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University edited by Mark M. Gray. CARA is a non-profit research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church. Founded in 1964, CARA has three major dimensions to its mission: to increase the Catholic Church's self understanding; to serve the applied research needs of Church decision-makers; and to advance scholarly research on religion, particularly Catholicism. Follow CARA on Twitter at: caracatholic.


Does Hillary Have A “Catholic Problem” Now?

In July there was a flurry of news stories about Donald Trump’s “Catholic problem” that became evident with the release of a national survey from the Pew Research Center conducted in June. Thankfully, this organization is one of the few in this election cycle to still show an interest in how religious affiliation, or lack thereof, affects vote intentions.

In that June survey, Hillary Clinton led Trump 56% to 39% among self-identified Catholics. The media, commentators, and politicians picked up and ran with the result as such:
  • “Trump is faring poorly among Roman Catholics.” National Review
  • “Why are so many Catholics down on Donald Trump?” Huffington Post 
  • “Catholic voters, who have been key to picking the winning ticket in almost every modern election, reject Trump decisively.” Religion News Service 
  • “Experts on American Catholics say Democrats have an opportunity to attract religious Catholic voters in a way they have not for decades.” National Journal 

Now with the conventions over and the campaigns headed toward Labor Day it appears Clinton may have also caught a “Catholic problem?” Is this stuff contagious? Did her support among Catholic registered voters drop 16 percentage points in two months?

The August poll includes the Green and Libertarian candidates. Obviously the Catholic shares are sub-samples with fewer respondents and thus larger margins of error than the overall poll results for both surveys. Some of the volatility may just be artifacts of these issues and in the end may not be very reflective of what we would have seen if the election were held in June or August.

Here is the reality… A majority of Americans see these candidates as unfavorable (Clinton, Trump). The 2016 election is not about voting for a candidate as much as it is voting against one. Turnout will be key. Of course not all registered voters are going to show up at the polls. Yet registered voters are the frame for many election polls at the moment. There are some polls looking at likely voters but the accuracy of these depends on the quality of the model. I don’t know why anyone would be confident at this point about predicting the likely turnout of voters given the candidacies of Trump and Bernie Sanders. There is a “new” segment of the electorate out there that hasn’t been active in the past and there are likely pieces of the old electorate that won’t bother showing up or voting for the top of the ticket.

One other note of caution. In the recent years there has been something quirky going on in election polling here and abroad (1, 2). Don’t be surprised if the election results look significantly different (beyond margin of error) than what is predicted in the pre-election polls or in how the exit polls turn out. Whether it is low response rates, poor sampling, or social desirability effects (respondents feeling embarrassed to state their vote intentions) there is a ghost in the election polling machine and it is likely to be visible again on Election Day here in the United States. Unfortunately, people tend to take polls too literally and this may only stir conspiracy theories of a “rigged” or “hacked” election.

What I can say is that the overall vote is likely to go as the vote of Catholics does. By no means is the “Catholic vote” a block but it is a historically definitive swing vote. While there are typically big differences between non-Hispanic white Catholic voters and Hispanic Catholic voters this matters most in states that are not competitive (e.g., California, Texas). The Trump campaign’s “Rust Belt” strategy is in states where Catholics are disproportionately non-Hispanic white and tend to vote Republican (doing so in 2012).

As a pollster I always want to trust an aggregation of polls over any single study. With only Pew taking religion seriously this election cycle we can’t aggregate Catholic results for a clearer portrait. With nearly all of the exit polls for the primaries excluding a religious affiliation question the data just aren’t out there. This is remarkable given that the “God Gap” is likely to be one of the decisive factors for Election 2016.  

RealClear Politics allows one to view what is happening for the overall electorate by aggregating polls. What is evident is that Hillary Clinton’s lead over Trump in August varies, on average, from about 3.4 percentage points to 8.4 percentage points depending on whether one is looking at likely voters or registered voters and whether it is a two-candidate choice or a four-candidate choice. One assumes that the result most reflective of a potential outcome is with likely voters choosing among four candidates. But then again, how good is the likely voter model being used? The figures below show the trends for the overall electorate as aggregated on RealClear Politics:

How useful are these trends? Not much. Instead what really matters is the population-weighted popular votes of each state in terms of Electoral College outcomes. In key swing states, Clinton holds sizeable and consistent leads over Trump. Don’t make too much out of individual polls which show leads counter to other surveys in a state. These can happen by chance or by flaw. They often lead to a “shock” headline in the paper but amount to little on Election Day.

Realistically, Trump needs to win the states Romney did in 2012 and then add Ohio, Florida, Iowa, and either Pennsylvania or Virginia. Looking at recent polls, given margin of error and differences in poll structure, Clinton and Trump are tied in Iowa. Clinton appears to have an edge in Ohio (+5) and Florida (+6). Clinton has big, perhaps insurmountable, leads in Virginia (+13) and Pennsylvania (+10). Of course there are also some Romney states that Trump is at risk of losing as well. All of the election prediction models have Clinton at about 80% likely to win at this point given these advantages at the state level. In some regard this election is quite “small.” It’s about the voters in just a handful of states. Catholics will be part of that story. Perhaps in the exit polls we will get a clearer picture of just what role they played. For now be wary of claims either candidate has a “Catholic problem.” We have too little data and what we do have presents a mixed picture.

Note: If you are a regular reader of this blog you already know that I (CARA researcher Mark Gray) am a political scientists and pollster who is profoundly apolitical. CARA is also an independent non-partisan research center. I am not registered to vote nor will I be. I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican. In political analysis and forecasting I always try to stick solely to the data.


Sacraments Today Updated

In 2008, CARA released results from a survey that measured a variety of different beliefs and practices among U.S. adult Catholics. Now, eight years later CARA has replicated some of these questions in a new project about religion and science. This post details the demographic, Catholic background, and religious practice changes we can identify during this period (...more on religion and science in the near future). We also include results for a few new belief related questions that weren’t asked in 2008. The new survey includes interviews with 1,010 randomly selected U.S. adults who self-identified their religion as Catholic (margin of sampling error of ±3.1 percentage points). The poll was conducted May 16 to 26, 2016 and was made possible by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

Entrance Into the Church
We have called attention to declines in the numbers of infant baptisms in the United States in the past. However, as shown in the figure below, we have also noticed an increase in children and teens being baptized after their first birthday. We see this in the Church’s sacramental numbers as well in the responses from the survey. Why this is occurring is still an open question. Twenty-three percent of Millennial Generation Catholics (born 1982 or later) were baptized as children or teens. By comparison, only 13% of Pre-Vatican II Generation (born before 1943) Catholics report this. Most Catholics entered the Church as infants and fewer than one in ten entered as adults.

In the total population, the percentage of Catholics who are baptized that go on to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation has remained steady with more than eight in ten adult Catholics reporting this. However, underneath this aggregate percentage there is change. Millennial Generation Catholics are less likely than older Catholics to have received Confirmation. 

Mass Attendance and Prayer
There has been no change in frequency of Mass attendance between 2008 and 2016. In fact, in all of CARA’s national polling since 2000, Mass attendance has only changed beyond margin of error on one occasion—shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. There was briefly a slight increase in weekly attendance in the months that followed.

At the same time, it is still the case that a majority of self-identified Catholics are not “parish-affiliated” and instead either attends Mass on Ash Wednesday, Easter, and/or Christmas or even less often. Among Millennials, two-thirds are infrequent Mass attenders and only 14% attends weekly.

In 2008, CARA asked respondents about praying the rosary but did not ask about prayer generally. In the 2016 survey respondents were asked, “Aside from religious services, about how often do you pray?” Overall, 40% of adult Catholics say they pray at least once a day. Nineteen percent pray at least once a week and 17% at least once a month.

What may be startling to some are the differences that emerge by generation. Among Millennials, more pray only a few times a year or less often (30%) than pray at least once a day (25%). Across generations declining frequency in prayer is nearly a linear trend. When coupled with frequency of Mass attendance, it appears Millennials are only infrequently involved in a conversation with God. These new data are a departure from previous trends.

Belief in God and the Bible
Overall, 96% of self-identified Catholics believe in God. This includes 74% who believe without doubts and 22% who believe but have some doubts from time to time. Four percent do not believe in God but are open to the possibility of God’s existence (i.e., agnostic) and 0.1% say they do not believe in God and are sure of this (i.e., atheist). Sixty-one percent of self-identified Catholics believe the Bible is the “inspired word of God” and 21 percent believe it is actually the word of God and is “to be taken literally, word-for-word.” Eighteen percent do not believe the Bible is the actual or inspired word of God.

Across generations there is one notable outlier—Millennials are more likely than older Catholics to have doubts that God exists. Fewer than two-thirds say they believe in God without doubt (64%).

There are few if any differences across generations in their perceptions of the Bible with older and younger Catholics responding similarly.

Observing Lent
One of the major findings of Sacraments Today back in 2008 was the zeal that many Millennials reported about this period of the liturgical calendar. They were generally more likely to report activity than older Catholics. Overall, there is little change in 2016 for all Catholics. Respondents are slightly less likely to make extra efforts to give money to the needy or to try to improve their personal habits or behavior.

However, there are changes in the observance of Lent among Millennials. Although there is not much change among Millennials in abstention from meat on Fridays during Lent, this group has become less likely to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday, to abstain from or give up other things beyond meat on Fridays, and to give additional money to the poor or try to do more to improve themselves. Note that the make-up of Millennials, the youngest adult generation, has changed over time as younger members of this cohort have entered adulthood since 2008.  

Sacrament of Reconciliation
Although U.S. adult Catholics rarely go to confession, their frequency of doing this has neither been falling nor been rising for more than a decade. More than four in ten don’t go to confession with any regularity. Nearly three in ten goes at least once a year.

There is not much variation in frequency of confession among the three youngest Catholic Generations. Pre-Vatican II Generation Catholics are less likely than younger Catholics to say they “never” go to confession and are more likely to say they go “several times a year.”

Catholic Education, Demographics, and Background
Adult Catholics in 2016 are slightly less likely than those in 2008 to have attended a Catholic primary or secondary school as children. They are also slightly more likely to have attended a Catholic college or university. Only three in ten Millennials have attended a Catholic primary school compared to a majority of Vatican II Generation (born 1943 to 1960) Catholics (54%). At the same time, Millennials are more likely than any other generation to have attended a Catholic college or university (12%). This is in part due to a majority of Millennials having attended college and fewer than half of Vatican II and Pre-Vatican II Catholics reporting this.

While many assume Millennials are more likely to be enrolled in parish-based religious education than older Catholics, this is not the case. Only 36% of Millennials say they were enrolled in parish-based religious education at some point compared to about half or more Catholics in older generations. The consequences of fewer young Catholics receiving a formal Catholic religious education are broad. We have noted these related to school enrollments and will soon be highlighting the impact of this on Catholics leaving the faith as well as on Catholics’ understanding of the relationship between faith and reason (...stay tuned).

It should come as no surprise that Catholics have become more racially and ethnically diverse since 2008. Through generational replacement, immigration, and varying sub-group fertility rates the share of Catholic adults who self-identify as non-Hispanic white has declined (-6 percentage points and the percentage self-identifying as Hispanic or Latino has grown (+6 percentage points).  Fewer than half of Millennial Generation Catholics self-identifies their race and/or ethnicity as non-Hispanic white (49%).

Results regarding marital status may stand out as running counter to some expectations given general cultural changes in the United States. A growing number of adult Catholics report that they are married and have a Catholic spouse (41% in 2016 compared to 34% in 2008). This growth is a result of fewer reporting they have never married, are living with a partner, or are separated or divorced.

As CARA has long reported, the population center of the Catholic Church in the United States is shifting to the South and West and away from the Northeast and Midwest. More Catholics reside in the South than in any other single region of the United States.

Finally, one can see the generational replacement occurring among adult Catholics by looking at the changing sizes of Catholic cohorts. In 2008, Pre-Vatican II Generation Catholics made up 17% of the adult population. Today, they are 6%. Millennials on the other hand have grown from15% of the population to 26%. The largest portion of the adult Catholic population is of the Post-Vatican II Generation, born 1961 to 1981 (38%).

As Pre-Vatican II Catholics become a smaller and smaller share of the Catholic population in the future, the Church can expect to experience declines in Mass attendance and further growth in racial and ethnic diversity.

Baptism image courtesy of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston


Laudato Si’: Catholic Attitudes about Climate Change

A year after Pope Francis released his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, Catholic adults in the United States are generally more likely to be concerned about climate change than other Christians according to a new survey conducted by CARA. Catholics are also more likely than other adults to believe they have a moral responsibility to personally do what they can to combat climate change according to results from the poll conducted May 16 and May 26, 2016.

Overall, 63% of U.S. adults agree that temperatures on Earth are getting warmer, on average, in response to higher concentrations of heat trapping greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide and methane. Additionally, 24% neither agree nor disagree with this. Only 13% disagree. Sixty-five percent of adult Catholics agree with the statement regarding climate change, 12% disagree, and 23% neither agree nor disagree. Evangelical Christians are the least likely to agree with the statement at 51%. Seven in ten or more of those with a non-Christian affiliation (71%) or no Christian affiliation (70%) agreed with the statement.

Sixty-seven percent of U.S. adults agree that increasing concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere like carbon dioxide and methane are largely a result of human activity (e.g., industrial activity, transportation, as well as energy and food production). Twenty-one percent neither agree nor disagree with this. Only 10% disagree. 

Sixty-eight percent of Catholics agree that increasing concentrations of heat trapping gasses is largely a result of human activity. Evangelical Christians are the least likely to agree that this is the case (59%). Other Christians have similar levels of agreement with the statement as Catholics (68%). Seven in ten or more of those with a non-Christian affiliation (79%) or without an affiliation (70%) agree.

Sixty-percent of Catholics agree with both statements (strongly or somewhat) that the planet is becoming warmer in response to higher concentrations of heat-trapping gasses and that the increase in these gasses is largely a result of human activity. A minority of Evangelical Christians agree with both statements (46%).

Catholic attitudes are similar to that of all U.S. adults combined. However, level of agreement with both statements is higher among those with a non-Christian affiliation (67%) or without an affiliation (65%). Note that disagreement levels are much lower and many choose to neither agree nor disagree with the statements.

Twenty-eight percent of U.S. adults recall that they heard or read about Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment a year ago. Generally, the public has low awareness of specific papal statements and are often more generally aware of what the Pope has been saying or how he has been appearing in the news. Questions about specific documents often have low awareness. The Associated Press conducted a survey in March 2015 asking the public if they were aware that Pope Francis was about to release an encyclical about global warming. At that time, 6% of adults indicated an awareness of this.

In July 2015, after the release of Laudato Si’, the Associated Press found that 31% had heard of the encyclical. The current survey, a year later, shows awareness has fallen just a few percentage points over time.

Catholic recall of the encyclical is only slightly higher than the general public at 32%. Majorities of all group say they don’t recall of hearing or reading about Laudato Si’.

“Strong” agreement with the two statements about climate change, that the Earth is warming and that this is largely a result of human activities, is about 15 percentage points higher, on average, among those who recall hearing or reading about the encyclical compared to those who do not recall this.

Only about 22 percent of U.S. adults say they think they generally agree with Pope Francis about the environment and climate change. However, even fewer say they do not agree with him on this topic (19%). Given that only 28% of adults are aware of the Pope’s encyclical it is not surprising that most say they “don’t know” if they generally agree with Pope Francis on this issue. Catholics are the most likely to be sure of their agreement (34%), however half say they “don’t know.” Only 15% of Catholics are sure they are in disagreement.

Among those who say they generally agree with Pope Francis about the environment and climate change, agreement (strong or somewhat) that the Earth is warming and that this is largely caused by human activity are comparatively higher than those who say they know they are not in agreement with Pope Francis (88% compared to 28% on warming and 90% compared to 39% on the link to human activity). This result is also evident among Catholic adults based on their assessment of their agreement with Pope Francis (86% compared to 28% on warming and 87% compared to 32% on the link to human activity).

More than one in five adults, 22%, in the United States believe God has played a role in the changes observed in Earth’s climate in recent years. Even fewer Catholics believe this (17%). Evangelical Christians are most likely to agree that God has played a role with more than four in ten responding “yes” (46%). Note that a quarter responded “don’t know” or refused rather than yes or no (26% of all adults and 28% of Catholics).

Respondents who said they believe God has played a role were asked the open-ended question, “What role do you believe God has played in recent climate changes?” Although 22% said they believed this, only 14% decided to respond to the open-ended question asking them to describe God’s role. Many responses cite one of two concepts: that this is all part of God’s plan or that God has control of everything that is happening. A representative sampling of these responses are shown below.
  • All changes are part of His plan We do not need to know, or even understand the plan.
  • As stated in Bible there is a end.
  • Because he is the creator of all things. He controls everything.
  • Every thing is created by God whether it be good or bad.
  • God already knows everything that has and will happen, He gives us a free will to make our choices, but He also knows what we will choose. He knew the climate would change and knows what will come of all of it. He will direct as He feels fit to do.
  • God created a universe containing the earth and it's life (plants, animals...), which has a natural evolutionary process, which includes climate changes.
  • God decides the weather.
  • God is in complete control of all that happens, either by His active will or by his permissive allowance.
  • God set up a climatology system that has naturally occurring cycles. It repeats over time. There have been many slightly cooler periods, just as there have been many slightly warmer periods. This is nothing new.
  • I believe that God can do anything he wants to do.
  • The Bible describes the times of "Jacobs troubles." Weather will get increasingly worse, just as famine, death, disease etc. will.

Fewer than one in ten of those who believe God has played a role, say they don’t know or are not sure of what that role has been.

Fourteen percent of all adults believe that climate change is the “most important” problem facing the world today. Catholics are more likely than others to say climate change is the most important problem (18%). A majority of U.S. adults and Catholic adults believe it is either the “most important” problem or a “very important” problem (60% and 66%, respectively).

Evangelical Christians are the least likely to say climate change is the “most important” or a “very important” problem (10% and 39%, respectively). More than one in five Evangelicals combined say it is either “a little” or “not at all” important of a problem (12% and 10%, respectively).

Sixty-three percent of U.S. adults and 68% of Catholic adults say they believe it is their moral responsibility to do what they can to combat climate change. Majorities of all religious sub-groups agree with this statement. Respondents who recall hearing or reading about the Pope’s encyclical are slightly more likely than those who are sure they did not to say they believe they personally have a moral responsibility to combat climate change (72% compared to 65%). This gap largest among those without any religious affiliation (83% who recall the encyclical compared to 62% who do not).

Catholic respondents were asked directly about how the statements of Church leaders had impacted their belief that they have a moral responsibility to combat climate change. Nearly a third of Catholics, 32%, say statements by Pope Francis led them to strengthen their belief that they have a moral responsibility to what they can to combat climate change. Catholics are less likely to indicate statements by their pastor (19%), bishop (17%), or some other person in Church ministry (17%) had led them to strengthen their belief in their moral responsibility to combat climate change.

Note that responses to this question are dependent on their bishop, pastor, or other Church minister making a statement about climate change.

Respondents were also asked about their beliefs that society should take steps to address human-caused climate change.

Overall, 72% believe society should take steps to combat climate change. Note this is higher than the share who believe they personally have a moral responsibility to do so (63%). Majorities of all religious sub-groups believe society should be taking steps to combat climate change. This is also the case whether each sub-group recalls hearing or reading about the Pope’s encyclical or not. However, among respondents with no religious affiliation there is a noticeable gap where 95% of those who recall hearing or reading about the Pope’s statement believe society should be taking steps to combat climate change compared to 77% who do not recall hearing or reading about this. Among Catholics there is no difference between those recalling reading or hearing about Laudato Si’ and those who are sure they did not read or hear about this.

It may be possible that the Pope’s encyclical has had a greater impact among those without a religious affiliation than Christians, and specifically Catholics. The data may indicates that Pope Francis has strengthened the case that individuals and society have a moral responsibility to act against climate change among those who are among the least religious in the United States.

One aspect of the Catholic Church that the public, and Catholics specifically, appear to get wrong about the Church and climate change is the perception that Pope Francis is the first pope to address the Church’s position on the environment and climate change. In fact his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was often referred to (including by National Geographic) as “The Green Pope.” It is also the case that Pope Saint John Paul II was also vocal about Catholics needing to respect and protect nature. Yet, 32% of all adults agree (strongly or somewhat) that Pope Francis is the first in the Church to address the environment and climate change—including 42% of Catholic adults agreeing with this statement.

Again, given the general low awareness of specific statements made by popes, it is likely the case that Catholics and non-Catholics alike are so much more aware of Laudato Si’ than something Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI or Pope Saint John Paul II said or wrote about the environment that gained less attention by the media that they believe Pope Francis is the first pontiff to address this topic.

About the CARA Catholic Poll (CCP)
CARA partnered with GfK Custom Research (formerly Knowledge Networks), a highly respected polling firm that has assembled and maintains a large national panel of U.S. households using random probability sampling to conduct the survey. GfK was founded by academic social scientists and its methodology is highly rigorous. Their surveys are regularly used in academic research that is published in peer-reviewed journals in a variety of fields as well as by journalists and the government. Contacted initially by phone (random digit dial) or mail (randomly), each participating household in the national GfK panel of households agrees to be available for online surveys. The panel is not restricted to existing computer and/or Internet users. Those persons who are sampled and asked to join the GfK panel are supplied with subsidized internet access or a television appliance to take self-administered on-screen surveys. Thus respondents take surveys on computers, televisions, tablets, or smartphones. CARA surveys in English or Spanish at the respondent’s choice. These methods ensure that GfK’s panel is reflective as possible of the national population. The panel’s coverage of the population is very high, 97 percent, well above standard telephone polling methods. 

Interviews were conducted with 1,927 respondents between May 16 and May 26, 2016. The primary sample includes 1,010 self-identified Catholics. Additionally, 917 non-Catholics were interviewed. Of the non-Catholics, 311 are Evangelical Christians. Another 357 have some other Christian affiliation. A total of 76 had some other non-Christian affiliation and 167 had no religious affiliation (including 81 with no religion and 86 who are atheists or agnostics).

Six respondents declined to state a religious affiliation. Statistical weights, created by GfK, are used to approximate the results for the U.S. adult population. A more complete description of the study and its methodology is here. For additional information about the survey contact me at or 202-687-0885.

Image courtesy of United Nations Photo.

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