To better understand readership of diocesan newspapers, a recent CARA Catholic Poll (CCP) asked a national representative sample of self-identifying Catholic adults, “In the last six months have you read your diocesan newspaper?” CARA was able to identify where each respondent lived so this question also included the exact title of their diocesan publication (91% of adult Catholics live in a diocese with a publication. Those who do not were still asked the question but without a specific title). Twenty-five percent of Catholics said they had read their diocesan paper in the last six months.
CARA replicated this diocesan newspaper readership question in two additional surveys. Based on this series, CARA estimates that 25% to 30% of adult Catholics read their diocesan newspapers with some regularity. We take the mid-point of this range and assume 27.5% readership. We can understand the meaning of this percentage even more by converting it into population numbers.
The U.S. Census Bureau currently estimates the nation’s total population is about 307 million, of which 229 million are age 18 or older. CARA and other academic and media surveys consistently estimate that Catholics make up about 23 percent of the U.S. adult population. Thus, surveys currently estimate an adult Catholic population of 52.7 million. Multiplying 27.5 percent by 52.7 million we can estimate that 14.5 million Catholics—or nearly 5 percent of the total U.S. population—have read a diocesan newspaper or magazine at least once in the last six months. In other words, almost one in 20 U.S. residents has read a diocesan newspaper during this period. This estimate is likely an under-count as CARA surveys do not include interviews with non-Catholics. Given that 16 percent of all adult Catholics are married to a non-Catholic spouse, there is a large pool of potential non-Catholic readers of diocesan papers.
To put the 14.5 million readers in context, here are some other types of media consumed by this number of people:
- In a typical week, this is the number of viewers for a program in the top ten of the U.S. Nielsen Media Research broadcast television ratings.
- It is about the same as the combined total of all the circulation for the 21 most widely read newspapers in the United States.
- It is more than the U.S. readership of any magazine not published by the Association for the Advancement of Retired People (AARP).
- It is 6 million more than the circulation of Reader’s Digest.
- It is about the same as the number of U.S. monthly visitors to twitter.com.
- Only 26 music albums/CDs have ever sold more than 14 million copies in the U.S.
Skeptics might say they do not trust survey data and that respondents might be lying about their reading behavior. This is a serious issue in survey research often referred to as social desirability bias. This is the tendency for respondents to report a socially desirable behavior to an interviewer because they are ashamed to say they don’t. However, CARA asked this question in surveys conducted with and without an interviewer (respondents answer onscreen) and the results are consistent using either method. Catholics are not ashamed to tell an interviewer that they don’t read their diocesan newspaper.
Although I am sure many editors and bishops would prefer that "at least half" of Catholics read their diocesan papers it is important to note that there are actually few things that half or more of Catholics do with any regularity. For example CARA Catholic Polls (CCP) indicate that:
- 59% live in a household registered with a parish
- 50% live in a household that regularly contributes to the offertory at their parish
- 45% have attended a Catholic elementary school
- 36% read their parish bulletin weekly
- 33% say they attend Mass weekly or more often
- 26% participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation at least once a year
- 18% read the Bible at least monthly
So just who are these 14.5 million Catholics? What does a diocesan newspaper reader look like? Sub-group differences in readership of diocesan newspapers are strongly related to age and Mass attendance.
More than four in ten Pre-Vatican II Catholics have read their diocesan newspaper in the last six months. Only a quarter of Vatican II Catholics have read their paper during this period, as have fewer than one in five Post-Vatican II Catholics.
As shown below, Catholics who attend Mass at least once a month are much more likely than those attending less frequently to have read their diocesan paper in the last six months. Nearly six in ten Catholics who attend Mass once a week or more have read their paper in the last six months. Four in ten of those attending at least monthly have done the same. Just 7 percent of those Catholics who attend Mass a few times a year or less often have read their diocesan newspaper in the last half year.
There are several other significant sub-groupdifferences. Those who are registered with a parish, who subscribe to a secular daily newspaper, women, those residing in the
Midwest and South, and those who have attended a Catholic high school or a Catholic college or university are all more likely to read a diocesan paper than the average Catholic.