Faculty experts:

Dr. Michael Anthony Novak, theology, michael.novak@saintleo.edu

Frank Orlando, political scientist, francis.orlando@saintleo.edu

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute asked adults in both its national sample and its separate Florida sample several questions about their attitudes toward religion and the intersection of religion and their thoughts and decisions on current events. As a basis of comparison, the respondents were asked about the role of religion in general decision.

In looking at the results, it is useful to know that the institute also broke out the responses of Catholics nationally (21.2 percent) from the overall U.S. base, which leans more toward non-denominational Christians (29.4 percent), with 19.3 percent following a mainline Protestant denomination. Only 2.7 percent of the national respondents were Jewish. More than 17 percent expressed no religious preference.

Even so, Americans reported in the following proportions that they strongly or at least somewhat agreed with the following statements (which were asked in this order).

  • I use my religious belief in my everyday life: 64.9 percent of Americans nationally and 71.4 percent of Catholics.
  • I use my religious beliefs as I make voting decisions: 43.4 percent of Americans, 47.1 percent of Catholics.
  • Presidential candidate Ben Carson was right to suggest a Muslim presidential candidate should be asked to choose between the U.S. Constitution and the Koran which conflicts with the U.S. Constitution; 46.8 percent nationally and 50.5 percent of Catholics.
  • The pope was right to call for an end to the arms trade and sale of weapons to other nations: 62.5 percent of Americans nationally and 71.4 percent of Catholics.
  • The United States is a secular nation that has been historically Judeo-Christian: 51.1 percent nationally, and 54.9 percent of Catholics.
  • The United States is a Judeo-Christian nation with secular activities: 37.6 percent nationally, and 39.3 percent of Catholics.

Looking first at the responses that seem to be about American life and domestic politics, Dr. Michael Anthony Novak said he was struck by the wide difference in the number of people overall, and among Catholics, who say they use their religion in everyday decisions, and the lower numbers who say they use their religious beliefs as they make voting decisions. It was nearly 65 percent in the overall base, compared to 43.4 percent. That 21.5-percentage point spread (24.3 percent among Catholics) could be a sign of how secular our nation is, said Dr. Novak, who teaches theology at Saint Leo. Or, it could be that voting decisions are so complex in the number of factors they include, he added.

It is also true that significantly more people identified the United States as secular nation than as a Judeo-Christian nation in both population groups. But people could also opt to agree with both statements rather than make a clear choice between the two, Dr. Novak noted.

Yet, in the landscape of American political life, almost all successful Congressional candidates are identified as Christians in official biographies, noted Frank Orlando, Saint Leo political scientist. “Candidates feel they have to present this if they want to win,” he added.

Dr. Novak commented on the Ben Carson question: “If the respondents are skeptical about the compatibility between Islam and democracy, perhaps this comes from the sense that the Islamic Middle East has little experience of constitutional democracy. The passage of time, and greater experience of Muslim citizens contributing to America, could ease that fear in the same way it began to fade regarding Catholics in the 1960s.”

In the international realm, Dr. Novak noted that the numbers agreeing that Pope Francis was right to call for an end to the arms trade (during his recent trip to America) were nearly as high as those who say they employ their religious beliefs in everyday decisions. Among Catholics, the percent agreeing was 71.4 percent to both questions, and in the lower 60-percent range for Americans generally.