Christians, Catholics to Take Part in 40-Day Observance, Poll Indicates

ST. LEO, FL ­– Americans say they will stash the Reese’s Cups and drop their daily Dunkin doughnuts as Lent begins Wednesday (March 6) and they give up candy, sweets, and chocolate for 40 days.

A new Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey shows that 29.2 percent of those who report being Christian (all denominations) and 45 percent of Catholics say they gave up something last year or will give up something for Lent this year. Poll respondents included 280 Catholics and 386 Christians of other denominations.

Of those who say they will abstain, 49.9 percent of those who are Christian say they will give up candy or sweets, while 49.5 percent of American Catholics polled say they will refrain from the same treats.

Chocolate comes in second as 30 percent of sacrificing Christians and 27.9 percent of Catholics say they will forgo it.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute ( survey was fielded nationally online among 1,000 adults from February 16 through February 25, 2019. When all 1,000 answered questions, the margin of error for results is plus or minus 3.0 percentage points. As part of a Catholic university, founded on Benedictine traditions, the Saint Leo University Polling Institute often surveys on topics that affect Catholics.

Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday, is a 40-day observance in which Christians—primarily Catholics—fast, engage in special prayer, donate to charities, reflect, and repent in order to prepare for Easter.

Christianity adopted the Jewish tradition of fasting, which was bound up with almsgiving and special periods of prayer, said Dr. Marc Pugliese, Saint Leo University associate professor of religion. “Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving were associated with periods of repentance. Of course there is the period at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry described in the synoptic gospels in which Jesus went into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days and nights. Early on, Christians started fasting on certain days of the week, choosing Wednesdays and Fridays. This was partly to distinguish their practice of fasting from the Jewish practice of fasting on Mondays and Thursday, and partly based on the Good Friday commemoration of Jesus’ passion and death on a Friday.”

Respondents who reported they are Christians were asked the following: “Many Christians observe Lent, a period of around 40 days leading up to Easter, by giving up something as a form of sacrifice or penitence. Which of the following statements best describes whether you observe Lent by giving something up?”

The results are:

National Results All Christians % Catholics %
I gave/will give something up for Lent this year 29.2 45.0
I have given something up for Lent in the past, but did not/will not this year 23.8 27.9
I have never given up something for Lent 37.9 17.9
Don’t know / not sure 9.1 9.3

The Saint Leo University poll shows more respondents say they will give up sweet treats, alcohol, soda (soft drinks), fast food, and ice cream than those that say they will abstain from activities such as swearing, smoking, having sex, using social media, and watching television.

Those who gave something up in 2018 or say they will give something up for Lent in 2019 were asked what they gave up or will give up this year.  The results are displayed in the following table nationally:

  National:  Giving Up All Christians %  Catholics %
Candy or sweets 49.9 49.5
Chocolate 30.0 27.9
Alcohol 26.2 30.4
Soda 21.5 17.6
Fast Food 17.6 14.2
Ice Cream 16.5 15.2
Swearing 16.0 16.7
Meat 16.0 16.2
Smoking 13.5 10.8
Other 9.6 10.8
Coffee 9.4 7.4
Sex 8.5 5.9
Social media such as Facebook or Twitter 8.0 4.4
Television 7.7 5.9

“There are some traditional things that Christians give up during Lent, such as eating sweets,” Saint Leo’s Pugliese said. “Given the meaning and spirit of Lent as a period of repentance and penance, it is good to consider giving up something that is very important, which will vary from individual to individual. It is also good to try committing to perform charitable acts instead of giving something up.”

One theological reason for helping others, Pugliese added, is that, “To obey is better than to sacrifice. [1 Samuel 15:22]. One might consider committing to engaging in charitable acts on Fridays instead of giving up meat.”

About the Poll
METHODOLOGY: This national survey was conducted from February 16 through February 25, 2019, among a base of 1,000 respondents, using an online instrument. The national survey has a +/- 3.0 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level on a composite basis. In Florida, the survey was conducted among 500 people across the state during the same time frame, also using an online survey instrument. The Florida poll has a +/- 4.5 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level (on a composite basis).

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 Communications or (352) 588-7118 or (813) 610-8416 (cell/text).

Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 588-8237 or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).     

More About Saint Leo University
Saint Leo University ( is a modern Catholic teaching university that is firmly grounded in the liberal arts tradition and the timeless Benedictine wisdom that seeks balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit. The Saint Leo University of today is a private, nonprofit institution that creates hospitable learning communities wherever students want to be or need to be, whether that is a campus classroom, a web-based environment, an employer’s worksite, a military base, or an office park. Saint Leo welcomes people of all faiths and of no religious affiliation, and encourages learners of all generations. The university is committed to providing educational opportunities to the nation’s armed forces, veterans, and their families. Saint Leo is regionally accredited to award degrees ranging from the associate to the doctorate, and the faculty and staff guide all students to develop their capacities for critical thinking, moral reflection, and lifelong learning and leadership.

The university remains the faithful steward of the beautiful lakeside University Campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, where its founding monks created the first Catholic college in the state in 1889. Serving nearly 12,000 students, Saint Leo has expanded to downtown Tampa, to other sites in Florida and beyond, and maintains a physical presence in seven states. The university provides highly respected online learning programs to students nationally and internationally. More than 93,000 alumni reside in all 50 states, in Washington, DC, in three U.S. territories, and in 76 countries.