► Catholic Church sees slight increase in positive opinion among Americans
► Percentage of Americans supporting politicians using faith in policy-making dips
ST. LEO, FL – A new survey by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute shows Americans’ opinion of the Catholic Church is more favorable while their positive opinion about the Church’s leader, Pope Francis, has dipped slightly. Among Catholics, the pope’s popularity also declined. The poll also shows a majority of Americans and Floridians now say politicians should not use their faith when making policy.
The Saint Leo University poll was conducted online, October 17-23, among 1,000 total respondents nationally. The resulting margin of error for the results is 3.0 percentage points in either direction. In Florida, 500 additional people were polled. The margin of error for the responses is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
As part of a Catholic Benedictine university, the polling institute at Saint Leo University in Florida regularly covers Americans’ attitudes concerning Pope Francis and the Catholic Church in America.
New poll results show the overall favorable opinion (strongly and somewhat) of the Catholic Church in the United States is 47.7 percent, up slightly from 46.6 percent in the February 2021 poll. Among Catholics, the favorable opinion (strongly and somewhat) was recorded at 75 percent, down from 81.2 percent in February 2021 and 76.4 percent in October 2020.
The favorability rating for Pope Francis has moved to 54 percent down from 55.6 percent in February 2021. Among Catholics nationally, the pope’s favorable opinion rating is 73.2 percent, which is a drop from 79.3 percent in in February 2021 and 79.9 percent in October 2020.
“The fact that the overall favorable opinion of the Catholic Church in the United States was up from February corresponds to a pattern we generally see [in Saint Leo polling],” said Dr. Marc Pugliese, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and an associate professor of religion and theology. “For example, in 2019, 2020, and 2021, the overall favorable opinion of the Catholic Church in the U.S. has been higher in the fall than in the spring and winter [47.7 percent in October 2021 vs. 46.6 percent in February 2021; 48.1 percent in October 2020 vs. 43.6 percent in February 2020; and 42 percent in November 2019 vs. 40.1 percent in April 2019 and 37.2 percent in February 2019].”
However, among Catholics, favorable opinion of the Catholic Church decreased with 75 percent of Catholic poll respondents saying they hold a positive opinion in October 2021, while in the spring poll in February 2021, 81.2 percent said they held a favorable opinion.
“We likewise typically see the overall favorable opinion of Pope Francis being higher later in the year, which is what we saw in 2020 and 2019 [56.4 percent in October 2020 vs. 52.2 percent in February 2020; 56.6 percent in November 2019 vs. 57.9 percent in April 2019 and 55.6 percent in February 2019].” Pugliese noted. “However, this year, we saw a slight drop in the pope’s favorability rating between our spring and fall polls.”
The differences this year could be related to some high-profile actions of Pope Francis regarding canon law and the Mass, Pugliese said.
In May, the pope issued an apostolic constitution, Pascite gregem Dei, revising portions of canon law that deal with sexual offenses and that directly bear upon the clerical sexual abuse crisis, Pugliese said. “These have been criticized for still trying to protect sex offenders within the church from state judicial and criminal justice systems.”
Pope Francis in July also repealed permissions granted by Pope Benedict XVI, which made it easier to celebrate the Latin (Tridentine) Mass. Pope Francis placed restrictions on the celebration of the Latin Mass, including leaving the decision with individual bishops. “For traditionalist Catholics, the Latin Mass can be a sort of identity badge, separating ‘faithful Catholics’ from the larger Catholic population, and is central to the culture of very conservative Catholics,” Pugliese said. “The pope’s restrictions have been viewed as an attack by a pope whom they already generally view with suspicion. For his part, Pope Francis expressed as a primary concern the promotion of unity in the Church in celebrating the same Mass according to the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. While many Catholics in the U.S. may be entirely unaware of and/or unconcerned with this change, there is a growing conservative constituency who is very aware and very concerned.”
These are divisive issues in the U.S. Catholic Church, “which is polarized virtually lockstep along the American political divide,” Pugliese added. “This is reflected in how the favorability ratings of Pope Francis are higher among Democrats than Republicans, with 65.6 percent of poll respondents who are Democrat vs. 51.3 percent of Republicans reporting a favorable view of Pope Francis.”
In looking at the breakdown of the poll results by those who say politically they are conservative, moderate, or liberal, the favorable opinion of the Catholic Church among political conservatives is about the same as the conservative opinion of Pope Francis (55.1 percent and 54.6 percent, respectively), noted Dr. Stephen Okey, associate professor of religion and theology, while among liberals it’s 40.6 percent holding a favorable opinion of the Church and 59.8 percent for the pope.
“This fits with a common narrative about Pope Francis—many progressives or liberals see him as closer to their positions, on a range of issues, than the Catholic Church itself is,” Okey said. “While this is broadly untrue in terms of actual beliefs or statements by the pope, it does continue to support the view that Pope Francis’ style of engaging with culture, especially those on margins of society, is attractive to liberals/progressives.”
Faith and politics
The Saint Leo University Polling Institute also surveyed Americans’ opinions about faith and politics. All respondents were presented with a few statements about faith and politics. For each, respondents were asked to indicate if they strongly agreed, somewhat agreed, somewhat disagreed or strongly disagreed. The cumulative totals for those strongly and somewhat agreeing are presented in the following table, which holds results for February 2021 and October 2021. Several questions were not posed to respondents in October 2021.
|Statements on Faith in Politics
|National February 2021 – %
|National October 2021 – %
|Florida February 2021 – %
|Florida October 2021 – %
|Politicians are right to use faith when making policy
|It is important to me that politicians are spiritual and have deep faith
|Too many politicians use public displays of faith to gain votes and promote their image
Pugliese, the Saint Leo associate dean and associate professor of religion and theology, noted the steep decrease from February to October 2021 in the percentage of poll respondents who agree strongly or somewhat that politicians are right to use their faith when they are making policy.
“I think comparing the results on our ‘Faith and Politics’ questions between February and now points to a correlation between how close we are to election season and how people view the role of faith in the lives and work of politicians,” he said. The total who agree or somewhat agree that politicians are right to use faith when making policy dropped between February and October, and this was the same both nationally and in Florida. Correspondingly, the total who say that too many politicians use public displays of faith to gain votes and promote their image increased from February to now, and this was likewise the case both nationally and in Florida.
“All of this may indicate that people become more conservative and skeptical about the role of faith in politicians’ lives and work the closer we come to election season,” Pugliese continued. “At the same time, the totals who agree or somewhat agree that it is important that politicians are spiritual and have deep faith remained the essentially the same. So the issue does not seem to be with the spirituality and faith of politicians per se, but rather with how these influence the actions of politicians. “
About the Poll
METHODOLOGY: This national survey was conducted from October 17, 2021, through October 23, 2021, among a base of 1,000 respondents nationally, using an online instrument. The national sample has an associated margin of error of +/- 3.0 percent at a 95 percent confidence for questions asked of all 1,000 respondents.
The statewide survey was also conducted during the same time period, among a base of 500 respondents, using an online instrument. The sample has an associated margin of error of +/- 4.5 percent at a 95 percent confidence for questions asked of all 500 respondents.
The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. The sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed that is convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive—usually $1 deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account—for their participation.
The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics, can also be found here: http://polls.saintleo.edu. You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.
Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Writer & Media Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org, (352) 588-7118 or cell (813) 610-8416.
Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications email@example.com or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).
About Saint Leo University
Saint Leo University is one of the largest Catholic universities in the nation, offering 57 undergraduate and graduate-level degree programs to more than 18,200 students each year. Founded in 1889 by Benedictine monks, the private, nonprofit university is known for providing a values-based education to learners of all backgrounds and ages in the liberal arts tradition. Saint Leo is regionally accredited and offers a residential campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, 16 education centers in five states, and an online program for students anywhere. The university is home to more than 98,000 alumni. Learn more at saintleo.edu.