U.S. Catholics Report Being Among Those Who Turn Off Devices Regularly

ST. LEO, FL – A majority of Americans confirm they are regular consumers of social media in a new national survey by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute (http://polls.saintleo.edu), but a significant percentage also indicate ambivalence about the time and attention social platforms and the related electronic devices take.

The survey was conducted nationally from May 25 through May 31, 2018 online among 1,000 U.S. adults. The margin of error for the resulting responses is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

One of the fundamental findings from the research is that 72.8 percent say they use social media, while more than one-quarter, at 26.5 percent, do not.

While consumption of social media is widespread across all kinds of social groups, there is a generational skew toward younger people apparent in the statistics. Specifically, 84.8 percent of those ages 18 to 44 use social platforms—12 percentage points more than the overall population and 15.7 points more than the next generations, those ages 45 to 64. In that group, 69.1 percent use social media, and among those ages 65 and older, just under half do so, at 48.3 percent.

Women in the sample outnumber men as social media consumers, with usage reported by 78.4 percent of women, compared to 67.2 percent of men, a difference of 11.2 percentage points.

The survey also shows a wide variance in the usage of the different platforms available. The survey determined this by asking the 72.8 percent of social media consumers to indicate which of nine channels (or “other”) they use regularly, and to include all the platforms they use. The results are shown in declining order.

Social Media Used National – %
Facebook 91.6
YouTube 50
Twitter 43.8
Instagram 39.4
LinkedIn 31.7
Pinterest 28.2
Snapchat 26
Google+ (Google Plus – not Google) 21.3
Yelp 11.4
Other 0.8


Social Media and Political Information
Social media can be used to discuss or share all kinds of different experiences, families, hobbies, businesses, and points of view. As the Saint Leo University Polling Institute steadily tracks opinions on politicians and public policy, the survey included two questions specifically related to political engagement.

People were asked to indicate how strongly they might agree or disagree with these views on the intersection of politics and social media. Possible answers were: strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, strongly disagree, or unsure.

I use social media to see both sides of political discussions/positions.

Possible answers    %
Strongly agree 25.5
Somewhat agree 37.8
Combined levels of agreement 63.3
Somewhat disagree 13
Strongly disagree 16.9
Combined levels of disagreement 29.9

Unfortunately, more and more, social media is driving political discussion in this country. 

Possible answers   %
Strongly agree 35.3
Somewhat agree 42.6
Combined levels of agreement 77.9
Somewhat disagree 11.3
Strongly disagree  5.4
Combined levels of disagreement 16.7

“A large majority of people seem to be regretting the influence social media has on our political dialogue,” commented Frank Orlando, director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute and a political scientist. “But the majority of our respondents are using social media to see both sides of the political discussion. Unsurprisingly, it seems as though people feel like the problem isn’t their own activity on social media, but that of the faceless others they encounter online.”

The technology section of the survey also allowed people to indicate the most frequent way they monitor the news, and allowed people to say if they use multiple sources on information. The result was that social media is in the mix as a way to monitor the news—at 10.3 percent reporting that choice—-but not the most popular method. In declining order, people say they use: local commercial television news; a combination of up to five options including commercial broadcast (television and radio) sources, Internet sources of news, social media and newspapers; national television news; newspapers; and then social media.

When Enough is Enough of an Electronic Tether
The survey results also show that while many respondents say social media applications are pervasive, segments of the population insist they are able to unplug.

For instance, a combined 78.4 percent say they strongly agree (40 percent) or somewhat agree (38.5 percent) that “There is a saturation of apps on social media­—and I have more than I need or I should have.”

Yet a combined sum of 79.4 percent also strongly agree (24.9 percent) or somewhat agree (54.5 percent) that “Social media can be overwhelming, but I’ve found a happy medium in its use because it’s not going away.”

Not quite half, at 49.6 percent, say they have actually restricted their own use of social media or deleted some over the past year, even if only temporarily. But more than half of the younger generations, at 57.3 percent of those in the age-18-to-age-44 year sample report doing so. (Older age groups were in the 40-percent range.) Of those who say they have restricted their own use of social media, 56 percent say their quality of life improved as a result, 54.6 percent say they feel more relaxed and at ease, and 41.8 percent say their spiritual health improved. (Multiple responses were allowed.)

Another option mentioned in the survey is turning off electronic devices for at least 30 minutes, and 72.4 percent of those in the 18-to-44 age group say they do that between one and seven times during a normal week to pray, meditate, or decompress. By contrast, only 60.8 percent of the general population say they turn off their devices one to seven times a week. Catholics and other Christians were somewhat more likely to report doing this than the overall population, with 69.5 percent of Catholics and 65.8 percent of other Christians saying they hit the “off” switch.

The leader of the world’s Catholics, Pope Francis, has cautioned in writings and spoken remarks that technology and digital communication can be good for society if used wisely and kindly. He has a widely-followed Twitter account, for instance. But the pope has publicly lamented some uses of electronic devices, such as in 2017 during a Mass at the Vatican when he told worshippers that the sight of people lifting their cell phones was “a very ugly thing.” The phones were distracting people from the spiritual experience, he said. He has also commented that people can forsake true communication with others if they are too wrapped up in technological tools.

“Pope Francis describes technology as not only a tool but also a framework that shapes habits, practices, and values,” said Dr. Stephen Okey, who teaches theology at Saint Leo University. “Because devices are designed to draw our attention, overly indulging the device promotes habits like being easily distracted from the family at dinner or from God while at church. Being virtuous with technology requires being self-aware about why and how often one turns to it.”

On that point, of those people who say they have restricted their own social media use in the last year, 34.6 percent report that they spend more time talking to family, friends, or co-workers when they are not using social platforms. This was another selection people could report as an effect of paying less attention to social media, along with feeling more relaxed and better spiritually, as mentioned above.

“People tend to be happiest with technology when it is a helpful supplement to their life,” Okey observed. “It’s when it becomes a substitute for in-person connection that people report higher degrees of anxiety and dissatisfaction,” he said.


Hacking Worries and Expectations of Companies
Turning to another topic that has been in technology news, the polling institute also used the survey to ask how many people agree that they worry about their social media being hacked. A combined group of 60 percent express that concern, with 25.4 percent strongly agreeing that being hacked is something they worry about, and 34.6 percent somewhat agreeing.

A stronger majority say they agree that social media companies “have accountability to their users,” at a combined percentage level of 77.2. Those strongly agreeing accounted for 45.1 percent of respondents, followed by the 32.1 percent who somewhat agree. By contrast, 17 percent registered some level of disagreement, with 11 percent somewhat disagreeing, and 6 percent strongly disagreeing.

Technology’s Influence on the Findings
Since the Saint Leo University Polling Institute contacts people online to participate in surveys, it makes sense that the people reached would have ready access to social media platforms, Frank Orlando, institute director, commented. Still, he added, access to content on a platform does not necessarily mean people will use the platform, as suggested by the fact that one-quarter of those polled on this topic say they do not use social media.

The poll sampled opinions of 1,000 adults approximately proportional to state population nationwide. The survey was conducted May 25 through May 31, 2018. All surveys were conducted using an online survey instrument. The poll has a +/- 3.0 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level (on a composite basis).

About the Polling Institute
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.

Media contacts:
Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications jo-ann.johnston@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-8237 or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).
Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Communications mary.mccoy02@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-7118 or (813) 610-8416 (cell/text).

More About Saint Leo University
Saint Leo University (www.saintleo.edu) 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 more than 13,000 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 94,000 alumni reside in all 50 states, in Washington, DC, in three U.S. territories, and in 76 countries.