The younger demographic, which may view themselves as ‘spiritual, but not religious,’ agree

ST. LEO, FL – Politics and religious faith can intersect, as evidenced by the most recent Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey. The new poll ( shows that majorities of respondents somewhat or strongly agree that President Joe Biden should use his faith in decision-making, that politicians are right to use their faith in making policy, and it’s important that politicians are spiritual — 56.4 percent, 53.1 percent, and 54.8 percent respectively.

The 2021 poll was conducted online February 7-14, among 1,000 total respondents nationally. The resulting margin of error for the results is 3.0 percentage points in either direction. The institute completed a parallel study during the same time period in Florida among 500 respondents, and the resulting margin of error is 4.5 percentage points in either direction.

“I think a key distinction here is that between institutional religion and its role in politics on the one hand, and personal faith and spirituality and their role in politics on the other,” said Dr. Marc Pugliese, associate professor of religion and theology and associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

“Biden talks far more about his ‘faith’ and its role in his personal life than his ‘religion’ or his being Catholic. I think that those who view Biden’s faith positively and agree that it should influence his decision-making are seeing this as his ‘personal’ faith and spirituality, not the fact that he is Catholic or a member of an organized religion. Far fewer (30.3 percent) agreed that regardless of who they voted for or supported in November 2020, President Biden’s Catholic faith made them more inclined to support his candidacy,” Pugliese said, referring to the results from another question posed by the polling institute.

Saint Leo’s poll asked those being surveyed to take a look at some 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 below and broken out by national respondents, national respondents who identified as Catholic, Florida (the home of Saint Leo University) respondents:


Statements on Faith in Politics National – % National Catholics – %  Florida – %

President Biden should use his faith to guide him in decision-making

 56.4 67.4  55.8
Politicians are right to use faith when making policy  








It is important to me that politicians are spiritual and have deep faith  








I’m OK with politicians citing Scripture while making an argument or taking a position  








Too many politicians use public displays of faith to gain votes and promote their image  








Despite whom, in the end, I supported or how I voted in 2020, President Biden’s Catholic faith  made me more inclined to support his candidacy  







Noting that 67.4 percent of Catholics surveyed nationally say the president should use his faith as guidance, Dr. Stephen Okey, assistant professor of religion and theology, said, “Biden is generally regarded as being authentic in his religious and spiritual commitments. While some commentators criticize those positions he holds that are contrary to Catholic teaching, most still recognize that his invocation of his faith is authentic, not performative or transactional. This is evident in that throughout his public career, he has been consistent in Mass attendance, in invoking his Catholic faith, and in referencing the texts, hymns, and traditions from the Catholic faith. That authenticity wins him significant support, especially among younger demographics who place authenticity at a premium.”

The poll shows 61.4 percent of those ages 18 to 35 agree (somewhat or strongly) that the current president should use his faith to make decisions; while 58.5 percent of those 36 to 55 and 52.9 percent of those 56 and older, agree. In addition, poll respondents in the youngest group (18-35), voice the most agreement with the statement that Biden’s Catholic faith influenced their support of him, at 43.6 percent. Among those 36 to 55, 35.4 percent agree, as do 21.4 percent of those in the oldest group, 56 and older.

“One question this raises is whether their support [ages 18-35] is because they respect President Biden for living out his faith—personal integrity in ‘walking the talk’—without necessarily agreeing with him, or whether their support is because his values match up with their own,” Pugliese said. “I think the answer here is not a simple ‘either-or.’”

Support for Biden using his faith to guide his plans was strong among those who say they are members of a religion: 67.2 percent of Catholics, 65.6 of non-Catholic Christians, and 60.6 of those of other religions. Among those who say they do not belong to a religion, 23.7 agree that the president should be guided by his faith.

Among the 1,000 respondents, Saint Leo polled 271 Catholics; 410 non-Catholic Christians; 198 non-religious; and 104 members of other religions.  Seventeen respondents were not sure.

“As far as the younger demographics, ages 18-35, this might seem surprising given the relatively higher rates of religious disaffiliation among younger people in the U.S.,” said Okey, the religion and theology professor. “However, we must keep in mind that still roughly half of the U.S. millennial population identifies as Christian and that the ‘nones’ [no religion] are not monolithic in their postures towards spirituality and religion. Many continue to identify with important parts of religious traditions they were raised with, while many others pick and choose among the beliefs and practices of a range of traditions.”

Even though secularism, agnosticism, and atheism are on the rise in the United States and in other developed countries, America remains by many measures as the most religious among first world countries, Pugliese noted.

“Institutional religion is on the decline in America, but personal faith and spirituality are not,” he said. “The number of Americans who self-identify as ‘spiritual but not religious’ [SBNR]—where ‘but not religious’ typically means not affiliated with an organized religion—continues to rise.”

The recent Saint Leo poll also shows majorities agree (somewhat or strongly) that too many politicians use public displays of faith only to gain votes (65.6 percent), and that they are OK with politicians citing Scripture when taking a position (54.4 percent).

Pugliese said that while the poll shows 65.6 percent say politicians are using religion to gain votes, he does not believe that is the perception of Biden.

“Although many would not necessarily see Biden’s expression of his personal faith as insincere, there have been occasions when his stances on major issues could be viewed as politically motivated rather than arising out of his personal convictions,” Pugliese said. “Biden’s position on abortion would be one example. Earlier in his career, the president expressed personal opposition to abortion and voted against a constitutional amendment that would allow states to overturn Roe v. Wade, but has since expressed support of Roe v. Wade and opposition to the Hyde Amendment’s barring of federal funding of abortion. In doing so he has appealed to women’s reproductive and health care rights, and referenced ‘extreme laws’ limiting abortion access in certain states.”

Some may view that switch in position on the Hyde Amendment as being motivated by politics, Pugliese said. “I believe it is conceivable, but by no means certain, that the president opposes abortion on moral grounds, but for other reasons he may judge to be good, supports its legality,” he added. “Even if this is the case, then his rapid seemingly reversal on the Hyde Amendment may still introduce questions of mixed motives.”

Biden’s overall job-approval rating in the poll was 60.9 percent, and about the same among Catholics, the survey also shows. More data on that is stored at

About the Poll

METHODOLOGY: This national survey was conducted from February 7, 2021, through February 14, 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 from February 7, 2021, through February 14, 2021, 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: You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.

Media contacts:

Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Writer & Media Relations,, (352) 588-7118 or cell (813) 610-8416.

Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications 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