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who are aware of U.S. bishops’ concerns about restrictions on religious liberty
generally agree with the bishops’ concerns. Yet the bishops’ protests against government
policies they see as restrictive of religious liberty have not drawn much more
interest among Catholics than among the general public. And there are no
significant differences in the presidential vote preferences between Catholic
voters who have heard about the bishops’ protests and those who have not.
two-thirds of Catholics (64%) have heard at least a little about the bishops’
protests against a number of government policies, including Obama administration
policies requiring religious institutions such as universities and hospitals to
provide contraceptive services to their employees. But just 22% of Catholics
say they have heard a lot about them. Moreover, only about a third of Catholic
churchgoers (32%) say their priest has spoken out on this issue at Mass.
a 56% to 36% margin, Catholics who are aware of the bishops’ protests about what they believe are infringements of religious liberty say they agree with the bishops’ concerns.
Among all Americans who are aware of the protests, there is less support for
the bishops’ position: 41% agree with the bishops’ concerns, while 47%
latest national survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion &
Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press,
conducted June 28-July 9, 2012, among 2,973 adults, including 619 Catholics, finds that most Catholics
express satisfaction with the leadership of the bishops and other church
officials. Large majorities are very or somewhat satisfied with the leadership
provided by Catholic nuns and sisters in the U.S. (83%), their own parish
priests (82%), their diocesan bishop (74%), the pope (74%) and American bishops
in general (70%).
percentage of Catholics saying they are satisfied with the leadership of
American bishops has increased sharply since 2002, during the height of the
church’s child sex abuse scandal. In June 2002, 51% of Catholics said they were
satisfied with the leadership of American bishops; today 70% do so. More
Catholics also are satisfied with the leadership of their own bishop than was
the case a decade ago (65% in 2002, 74% today).
bishops have objected
to various actions by state and local governments, including state laws on
immigration and municipal rules on adoption services, which they view as
limitations on religious liberty. And they have vigorously opposed the Obama
administration’s birth control insurance mandate. (For more, see “Public Divided over Birth Control Insurance Mandate,” Feb. 14, 2012.)
while most Catholics who are aware of the bishops’ protests agree with their
concerns, about half of Catholic voters (51%) say Barack Obama best reflects their
views on social issues such as abortion and gay rights; 34% say Mitt Romney best
reflects their views on these issues. Obama’s lead on social issues among
Catholics is about as wide as his lead among all voters (50% to 36%).
Obama and Romney run about even on social issues among white non-Hispanic Catholics
(47% Obama vs. 40% Romney). Among white Catholics who attend Mass at least
weekly, 53% say Romney better reflects their views on abortion, gay rights and
other social issues, while 37% say Obama better reflects their views. Opinions
are reversed among white Catholics who attend Mass less frequently (54% Obama
vs. 31% Romney).
far this year, neither Obama nor Romney has established a consistent lead among
Catholic voters. Currently, 51% of Catholic registered voters support Obama or
lean toward him, while 42% support Romney or lean toward him. Among all
registered voters, 50% favor Obama, while 43% back Romney. (For more see “Obama Holds Lead; Romney Trails on Most Issues,” July
non-Hispanic Catholics also are divided: 49% support Romney, while 44% favor
Obama. In April, Romney held a 20-point lead among white Catholics (57% to
37%); in that poll, Romney held a comparable advantage among all white voters
(54% to 39%). In 2008, McCain won a majority of all white voters, 55% to 43%;
he also had a five-point lead among white Catholics (52% to 47%), according to
the exit polls.
Catholic Voters and
the Bishops’ Protests
voters who have heard at least a little about the bishops’ protests divide
their support between Obama and Romney: 51% back Obama or lean toward him,
while 44% support Romney. The race is about the same among Catholic voters who
have not heard about the protests (51% Obama vs. 38% Romney).
Catholic voters who have heard about the protests, those who agree with the
bishops’ concerns support Romney by a wide margin (60% to 34%). Those who
disagree with the bishops’ concerns favor Obama by an even larger margin (78%
Resonate Especially with Observant White Catholics
bishops’ protests draw far more support from white non-Hispanic Catholics who
attend Mass frequently than from those who attend less often.
68% of white Catholics who attend Mass once a week or more agree with the
bishops’ concerns, while just 24% disagree. By contrast, opinion is evenly
split among white Catholics who attend Mass less often: 49% of those who have
heard about the issue agree with the bishops, while 44% disagree.
other religious groups, a majority of white evangelical Protestants surveyed
also agree with the bishops’ concerns (55% of those familiar with the bishops’
protests agree with their concerns, 31% disagree). Black Protestants are more
evenly divided (38% agree with the bishops and 47% disagree). Among white
mainline Protestants, more disagree than agree with the bishops’ concerns that
government policies are restricting religious liberty (37% agree vs. 51%
the religiously unaffiliated, those who disagree with the bishops outnumber
those who agree by more than four-to-one (73% who have heard of the bishops’
efforts disagree with their concerns and 17% agree). Fully 84% of atheists and
agnostics who are familiar with the topic disagree with the concerns the
bishops have raised.
bishops’ protests divide the general public – as well as Catholics – along
partisan lines. Among the public, Republicans agree with the bishops’ concerns
by greater than two-to-one (62% to 23%). Democrats disagree by a comparable
margin (62% disagree vs. 28% agree). Four-in-ten independents say they agree
with the bishops’ concerns, while 51% disagree.
each partisan category, there is more support for the bishops from Catholics
than from the general public. Fully 85% of Catholic Republicans who have heard
about the bishops’ efforts agree with their concerns, compared with 62% of
Republicans overall. Four-in-ten Catholic Democrats (41%) agree with the
bishops, compared with 28% of all Democrats. And while 54% of Catholic
independents agree with the bishops’ concerns, 40% of all independents do so.
at another way, however, the partisan differences within the Catholic community
are as great as they are in the public as a whole. Catholic Republicans are
twice as likely as Catholic Democrats to agree with the bishops (85% vs. 41%).
Views of Catholic
eight-in-ten Catholics say they are very or somewhat satisfied with the
leadership provided by Catholic nuns and sisters in the U.S. (83%), and 82%
express satisfaction with the leadership provided by their parish priests. Nearly
three-quarters of Catholics (74%) say they are satisfied with the leadership
provided by their bishop, and an identical percentage expresses satisfaction
with the pope’s leadership. Seven-in-ten Catholics say they are very (24%) or
somewhat satisfied (46%) with the leadership of the American bishops in
percentage of Catholics who say they are satisfied with the leadership of
American bishops is significantly higher than it was a decade ago, at the
height of the church’s child sex abuse scandal (70% today, 51% in 2002).
Catholics are generally satisfied with the leadership of their local and
national clergy, they express the highest satisfaction with leadership of U.S.
nuns and local parish priests. About half say they are very satisfied with the
leadership that nuns and priests provide (50% U.S. nuns, 49% their own parish
priests). By comparison, 36% of Catholics say they are very satisfied with the
leadership of their bishop, 34% with the pope’s leadership and 24% with the
leadership of American bishops.
Catholics who attend Mass frequently are more satisfied with the leadership
provided by the pope, bishops and parish priests than are those who attend less
frequently. However, there is no significant difference in views of the
leadership provided by nuns: 90% of low attendance white Catholics and 84% of more
frequent attenders are satisfied with the leadership of U.S. nuns and sisters.
might be expected, former Catholics are much less satisfied with Catholic
leadership than are those who currently consider themselves to be Catholic.
While most Catholics are satisfied with the leadership of the U.S. bishops and
the pope, less than half of the former Catholics surveyed express satisfaction
with the leadership of the U.S. bishops (31%) and the Pope (38%). The leadership
of U.S. nuns and sisters is rated positively by 55% of former Catholics.
The analysis in this report is based on telephone interviews
conducted June 28-July 9, 2012, among a national sample of 2,973 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all
50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia (1,771 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 1,202
were interviewed on a cell phone, including 596 who had no landline telephone).
The survey was conducted by interviewers at Princeton Data Source and Universal
Survey Center under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates
International. A combination of landline and cell phone random digit dial
samples were used; both samples were provided by Survey Sampling International.
Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. Respondents in the landline
sample were selected by randomly asking for the youngest adult male or female
who is now at home. Interviews in the cell sample were conducted with the
person who answered the phone, if that person was an adult 18 years of age or
older. For detailed information about our survey methodology, see http://people-press.org/methodology/
The combined landline and cell phone sample are weighted using an
iterative technique that matches gender, age, education, race, Hispanic origin
and nativity and region to parameters from the March 2011 Census Bureau's
Current Population Survey and population density to parameters from the Decennial
Census. The sample also is weighted to match current patterns of telephone
status and relative usage of landline and cell phones (for those with both),
based on extrapolations from the 2011 National Health Interview Survey. The
weighting procedure also accounts for the fact that respondents with both
landline and cell phones have a greater probability of being included in the
combined sample and adjusts for household size among respondents with a
An additional 511 interviews were conducted June 28-July 10, 2012, with
religiously unaffiliated adults by screening landline and cell phone RDD
samples (261 interviews) and by recontacting respondents from recent surveys
who had identified as religiously unaffiliated (250 interviews). These
interviews are used only when reporting on the religiously unaffiliated
(including the unaffiliated subgroups – atheist, agnostic, and those who
describe their religion as “nothing in particular”). For the RDD and cell phone
recontact samples, respondents were initially selected in the same way as
described above. For the landline recontact sample, interviewers asked to speak
with the person based on gender and age who participated in the earlier survey.
Once the selected respondents were on the phone, interviewers asked them a few
questions and then asked their religious affiliation; those who are religiously
unaffiliated continued with the remainder of the interview.
The weighting procedure for the additional interviews with
religiously unaffiliated respondents used an iterative technique that included
all of the parameters described above. In addition, the weighting accounted for
the oversampling of unaffiliated respondents in the screened and callback
samples, the type of unaffiliated respondent (atheist, agnostic or “nothing in
particular”), as well as gender, age, region and the 2012 presidential vote
preference among the unaffiliated. The parameters for the type of unaffiliated
respondent and for gender, age and region among the unaffiliated are based on
combined data from Pew Research Center surveys conducted from July 2011-June
2012. The parameter for the 2012 vote
preference is based on the vote preferences of unaffiliated respondents in the
Sampling errors and statistical tests of significance take into
account the effect of weighting. The following table shows the sample sizes and
the error attributable to sampling that would be expected at the 95% level of
confidence for different groups in the survey:
Sample sizes and sampling errors for other subgroups are available
In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that
question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce
error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky