Nineteen Sixty-four is a research blog for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University edited by Mark M. Gray. CARA is a non-profit research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church. Founded in 1964, CARA has three major dimensions to its mission: to increase the Catholic Church's self understanding; to serve the applied research needs of Church decision-makers; and to advance scholarly research on religion, particularly Catholicism. Follow CARA on Twitter at: caracatholic.


Getting Into the Electoral College

On December 19, electors will meet in their state and vote for President and Vice President as the Electoral College. This institution was inspired, in part, by the Catholic Church’s College of Cardinals. As most are now aware, the United States does not have a national popular vote for presidential elections. Instead, we’ve had multiple popular votes in the states, with Electoral College electors distributed by the size of the population in the state (which is reflected in its numbers of Congressional representatives. DC is treated as a state). The winning candidate must win a combination of states that gives them a majority of these Electoral College votes. In four elections, including 2016, the candidate winning more electors gained fewer total votes in the electorate than the candidate finishing second in the Electoral College. Is this because electors in the Electoral College are disproportionately allocated? This is part of it. Larger states tend to have a larger share of the voting eligible population (VEP) than their share of electors (see the states above the line in the figure below. Data are from Michael McDonald’s United States Elections Project). No matter how small the state, the fewest electors assigned is still three. This creates slight over-representation in small states.

The other more impactful distortion of the Electoral College is that in most states it is “winner take all.” The exceptions are Maine and Nebraska, who use some smaller districts to divide up their electors. Hillary Clinton needed 26% more votes than Trump to win each of her electors. She had 269,414 votes per elector compared to Trump’s 199,976 votes per elector. Clinton also had more “wasted” votes than Trump. Because the winner in most states wins all the electors, there are many places where the votes for candidates did not result in any Electoral College gains. In all, 31.8 million people who voted for Clinton did not impact her standing in the Electoral College. This is a majority, 51%, of all her votes. By comparison, Trump’s wasted votes totaled only 20.7 million, 34% of the votes he won.

An alternative allocation method for electors could use proportional representation to assign electors and achieve Electoral College results that are more reflective of the national vote totals. Recall the smallest states have three votes. To proportionally assign electors we would likely only be able to look at the votes won by the top two candidates (i.e., using a 10% vote threshold for third party candidates). Doing so with the 2016 vote, if we use the two-candidate share of votes for both Clinton and Trump and then apply these to the number of electors in each state we can give each candidate electors in rough proportion to their share of votes won. First we allow this to occur fractionally. For example, in Alabama, Trump led Clinton in the two-candidate vote 65% (1,306,925 million votes) to 35% (718,084 votes). Alabama has nine electors. Thus, Trump would get 5.8 electors and Clinton would net 3.2. Because fractional electors are not possible we simply round to the nearest whole person. Trump six and Clinton three. This also means in California, Trump would win 19 of 55 electors. Keep doing this for each state and you get Trump winning 268 electors and Clinton winning 270—a near tie but enough for a Clinton win. But of course these are not the rules of the game that have been established and used in the United States.

As we noted in a previous post, winning the Catholic vote has long been a good indicator that a candidate will win the election. Then perhaps the Catholic population is closely aligned with the Electoral College? Not really. As you can see below, large Catholic populations are in California, Texas, and New York. As a share of all Catholics these populations are much larger than the share of electors each of these states has. On the other hand, Catholics in Florida potentially are more influential than their population size if they vote in one direction or another in large numbers.

Image courtesy of clemsonunivlibrary.


Leaving Earth?

According to physicist Stephen Hawking (a notable member of the Catholic Church’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences), we have to figure out how to leave this planet because in the next 1,000 or so years a mass extinction event (man-made or natural) will likely end human life.

What happens when you ask people about the end of the world? CARA recently asked a national random sample of adults, “Do you believe the Earth’s demise is ultimately something we can understand and predict scientifically or something in God’s hands and therefore unpredictable?” More than six in ten believe it is in God’s hands. However, when you break that down by religious affiliation there is a big divide in opinion between Christians and those of other religious affiliations or no affiliation at all.

Only 6% of Evangelical Christians believe the Earth’s demise is something we can understand and predict scientifically. By comparison 34% of Catholics agree with this statement. At the other end of the spectrum, 82% of those without a religious affiliation (i.e., Nones) agree with the statement.

Barring divine intervention, it turns out there really are some things that are rather predictable about the possible “end of the world” in the long-term. The easiest is related to that brightest thing up in the sky we call the sun. Like any other star it has a lifespan and when it dies it will expand and take the Earth with it. The bad news is that, much earlier, in about 1 billion years it will be much hotter than it is now (regardless of any human activity) and Earth will no longer be a hospitable place for humans. With that in mind we asked Americans, “Scientists believe that in 4.5 billion years the Sun’s lifecycle will come to an end. Much earlier, in about 1 billion years, the sun will have become hotter and increased Earth’s temperature beyond a level where life, as we know it, is possible. Therefore, the long-term survival of humans may depend on space exploration and colonization. Do you believe that the destiny of human life is somewhere other than Earth or here on Earth?”

Hearing this reality, opinion is divided with 28% of adults saying human destiny is here on Earth and 27% saying this is to be found elsewhere in space. Most, 45% say they don’t know. Once again the opinion of Christians differ from others. Forty-one percent of Evangelicals believe the destiny of human life is on Earth compared to only 15% of those without a religious affiliation. Twenty-eight percent of Catholics say the destiny of human life is on Earth and 24% say it lies somewhere other than Earth (48% say they don’t know).

If Earth is doomed and human life can find a way to outlast it, then space is the place for the future. Seven in ten adults believe human exploration of space will be important (“very” or “somewhat”) in the future. Only one in ten say it is “not at all important.” Yet again, there are religious divides. Seventeen percent of Evangelicals believe space exploration to be “very” important compared to 41% of those without a religious affiliation. Thirty-six percent of Catholics believe it will be “very” important.

One might wonder why it matters if your religious affiliation is related to your views about the distant future, the ultimate demise of Earth, and space exploration. James Poulos, writing in Foreign Policy has argued, that Elon Musk, who has pledged to get humans to Mars soon, isn’t religious enough to colonize the red planet.

As you may have heard, Elon Musk (among others such as Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, and Bill Nye), believe that reality, as we know it, may be a computer simulation. As Musk notes, “There’s a one in billions chance we’re in base reality.” What is interesting is that many of these individuals are atheists or agnostics. They believe there is no God but also think it is possible or likely that everything we know is a simulation built by a creator? Am I the only one who finds this amusing? While some Christians may be the least inclined now to explore space, they could be the most able because they are also unlikely to believe reality is a complex video game and that reaching Mars would be an achievement rather than a pre-programmed outcome. Poulos writes, “Musk, and his Silicon Valley backers, are right that humanity’s destiny might be to extend life to other planets. But Musk’s seeming belief that we’re already stuck in a simulated world leaves only dubious reasons to endorse his understanding of what destiny means — and who ought to fulfill it.”

In the bleakness of space or the harsh environment of another planet, believing in a creator and an afterlife just might be what space explorers would need to be successful. On the other hand, as we have explored before, practicing religion in space will not be easy. “Do not go gentle into that good night...”

About the CARA Catholic Poll (CCP)
CARA partnered with GfK Custom Research (formerly Knowledge Networks) to conduct the survey. Interviews were conducted with 1,927 respondents between May 16 and May 26, 2016. The primary sample includes 1,010 self-identified Catholics (margin of error of ±3.1 percentage points). Additionally, 917 non-Catholics were interviewed. Of the non-Catholics, 311 are Evangelical Christians (margin of error of ±5.6 percentage points). Another 357 have some other Christian affiliation (margin of error of ±5.2 percentage points). A total of 76 had some other non-Christian affiliation (margin of error of ±11.2 percentage points) and 167 had no religious affiliation (margin of error of ±7.6 percentage points). Six respondents declined to state a religious affiliation. Statistical weights, created by GfK, are used to approximate the results for the U.S. adult population.


2016 Election Recap

Why were the polls so wrong?
Were they that wrong? The final RealClearPolitics polling average had Clinton at +3.2 (46.8% to 43.6%). I’ve also been watching the aggregation of all non-partisan telephone polls. This ended at Clinton +2.0 (45.8% to 43.8%). As of now, Clinton has won 47.7% of the national vote with 47.5% going to Donald Trump. So the result is likely something like Clinton +0.2. Even with aggregation, polls have margins of error and we once again had a contest where the margin of victory is smaller than the margins of error of the data examined. In that regard, the polls were not “off” or “wrong.” In fact they were similar in accuracy to previous elections. At the state level, there were some harder to predict states. My final election map prediction that I showed to my Georgetown classes on Monday were wrong on Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

The Pennsylvania polling average had estimated a Clinton lead of +1.1. But the last survey in the state had Trump ahead by +1 percentage point. In the end Trump won the state by +1.1. Again, the polls were not really wrong or off here. I was. I chose history over the most recent data. In Michigan the polls had Clinton leading by a +3.4 average. But here again, the last poll had Trump ahead by +2. The polls were not off here either. I was. Where the polls were clearly “wrong” was Wisconsin. The state average was +6.5 for Clinton. Trump won the state by +1. At the same time this state has a Republican Governor and is home to the Republican Speaker of the House. A Trump win here was clearly possible, even with the polling trend, but it did not seem likely given the available data.

To me, what was a bit “off” was that many in the news media and pundit world wanted to ignore or minimize any polls (e.g., USC/LA Times) that indicated a possible Clinton loss. 538’s Nate Silver was criticized by the Huffington Post’s Ryan Grimm because Silver’s Clinton likely win percentage was not high enough (i.e., 98% like Huffington’s). Before the election, on Twitter, Silver noted, “People don't debate the premises of 538 model (e.g. state errors correlated, undecideds=uncertainty). They just don't like the conclusions” and that “Clinton's polling is MUCH weaker than Obama's in the swing states. People seem to miss this.”

I encourage everyone to take a look at the news they watch and read. Is it really the news or political entertainment? Cable television news is mostly the latter. Journalists and pundits may have wanted to say Clinton was going to win easily but that did not mean reality had to play along. When Silver pointed out data and analyses that provided some doubts about conventional wisdom this did not make him biased. He was being a realist. An objective analyst. We used to respect and desire that. Now we seem to more often want to watch and read news that tells us “our side is winning” and what we want to hear and believe. In the end reality interjects.

The Catholic Vote 2016
The Catholic vote, or the religion factor more generally, was largely ignored by the media and pundits this year. There was some attention to Evangelicals in the Republican primaries. Later Catholicism became a focus briefly when polls came out showing that Trump had a “Catholic problem” (1, 2, 3) Apparently, in the end, the problem was overstated. He won the Catholic vote 52% to Clinton’s 45% with 3% going to other candidates. Catholics made up 23% of the electorate. In recent elections, if candidates win the Catholic vote they typically win the election. Trump won Catholic majorities in Michigan (57%), Florida (54%), and Ohio (56%). Clinton won the Catholic vote in California (63%) and Nevada (55%). 

It appears only Catholics make swings nationally back and forth from Republican to Democrat. Other Christians vote consistently Republican. Those of non-Christian affiliations or no affiliation vote consistently Democrat. That leaves Catholics often as an important deciding factor. I think it will take some time and more research to understand why Catholics were more likely to vote for Trump than Clinton. It is also the case that more data will be released with the American National Election Study (ANES) which may alter our view of the Catholic vote (it has in the past).

Although my personal election predictions were off in three states and thus awful on the eventual Electoral College outcome, I did indeed think that there might be a “ghost” in the election polling machine back in August:

As I have explained above, if there was a ghost in that machine it probably only manifested itself in Wisconsin. It will take more time and research to understand how the polls were so off there. For now, I think it can take its place alongside Ohio in 2004 and Florida in 2000 as a state to examine more closely. For political scientists the electoral map is getting very interesting. It is possible that 2016 is the beginning of a realignment. Democrats are showing new strength in the Sunbelt South. As demography changes this may turn some red states like Georgia, Texas, and Florida purple and eventually blue. At the same time Democrats may be losing ground in the Rust Belt North to Republicans where pink and red states could be more common.

Note: As always I was a non-participant in the election. I am not a partisan and not registered to vote. As a former reporter and now social scientist I really believe in trying to be objective.


Did CARA Data Reveal Pope Francis Failed?

[Trigger Warning: This post contains some necessary satire. All data are real]

First Things Literary Editor Matthew Schmitz posed the question, “Has Pope Francis Failed?” In The New York Times last week. The key sentence for CARA in this piece was, “New survey findings from Georgetown’s Center for the Applied Research for the Apostolate [not our name] suggest that there has been no Francis effect – at least, no positive one.” Schmitz notes that the “perceptions of the papacy” have changed for the better but asks, “Why hasn’t the pope’s popularity reinvigorated the church?”

CARA primarily studies Catholics and the Catholic Church in the United States. The following data “suggest” that any survey data about Catholics in the United States from CARA could not possibly be appropriately used to judge whether Pope Francis has failed.

The data reviewed in Schmitz’s piece measure approval of the pope (positive), frequency of Mass attendance (essentially unchanged), and Millennial’s participation in Lent (declined, while generally remaining stable among the total population) in the United States. I do not have the space in a blog post to list and detail all the other numerous possible indicators that could be used to measure a pope’s success or failure in the United States (and elsewhere). You can find a few in the original CARA blog post Schmitz read (which never mentions Pope Francis). 

Anyone can grab three stats and write an opinion piece (…and apparently get it published in The New York Times. Who knew?). For example, I could note that in 2005, when Pope Benedict started leading the Church there were 431 diocesan ordination in the United States (…again forget that the rest of the world exists). In 2015, with Pope Francis leading the Church there were 548. Electing Pope Francis has clearly made the Catholic Church more successful at ordaining priests in this single country (by 27%). Pope Francis is 79. I’m not sure how long his papacy may last. However, if he can remain in office to mid-century and continue the trend shown in the data below then CARA research “suggests,” that there will be a whopping 1,577 diocesan ordinations in the United States in 2050. Francis Effect confirmed! No? You need more data?

If essentially beginning to reverse the American decline in priests is not impressive enough look at the figure below. Since Pope Francis began to lead the Catholic Church fewer Catholics in the United States have been dying. Pope Francis did the best in 2014 with only 391,131 deaths compared to 403,886 in 2012 (a decline in mortality of 3.2%). You are probably alive today because of Pope Francis. The data above “suggests” that if Pope Francis is able to continue leading the Church through the year 2128, Catholics will essentially be immortal in the U.S. (I’m sure Catholics elsewhere in the world will be fine too).

Need a third measure? Since you apparently only need to cite three different types of research to be published in The New York Times… The number of American parents naming their sons Francis has risen dramatically since Pope Benedict XVI stepped down. According to the Social Security Administration, from 2008 to 2012, the average popularity rank for the name Francis was #643. Under Pope Francis it has risen each year and averaged #488 and in 2015 came in at #482. If Pope Francis can continue to serve into 2030, in all likelihood, Francis will be the #1 name for boys in the United States.

In all seriousness now, after reading Schmitz’s piece I felt CARA needed to clarify that its data do not “suggest that there has been no Francis Effect.” There is not even any point or logic to asking if Pope Francis has failed in 2016. Schmitz notes, “Perhaps it is too soon to judge?” You think? Further, focusing on a few bits of data from the United States alone to measure a Pope’s failure in leading a global Church seems remarkably insufficient.

We’ve posted some global data here in the past. One of the biggest challenges is the lag in data availability. For example, the most current Vatican statistics are for 2014. Someday in the future, after Pope Francis has served more than a few years it will be possible to review data about the world’s Catholics and fairly ask if Pope Francis has succeeded or failed in many things. I can guarantee that there will be Church data that turn negative, some that are unchanged, and others shifting positive.

Even then, the most difficult thing will be to actually empirically attribute those changes to Pope Francis. While many people imagine the Catholic Church as this hierarchical organized institution directed by the pope. For example, former restaurant critic Frank Bruni penned the following portrait on the opinion pages of The New York Times in 2013, “The Roman Catholic Church is a worldwide organization with enormous financial resources; with a network of charities and agencies that provide crucial help to the downtrodden; and with parishes in which the prayerful nurture their relationship with God. And the pope is its C.E.O., ultimately responsible for where the money flows and for the placement and policing of its staff.”

The Pope absolutely does not function as the Catholic Church’s C.E.O. as if he is running Wal-Mart (we’ve covered this before). Instead, the Church continues to operate in a quasi-feudal manner with heavy doses of decentralization and autonomy for local leaders. Pastors are responsible for parishes, bishops for dioceses, and the pope for a global Church. Administrators run Catholic hospitals, deans lead colleges, charities are run by executives. With that said, there is indeed a map room where Pope Francis is saying, “Close that school. Open a parish here. Does that charity have enough in their food bank? How is that parish’s new marriage preparation team doing? How many candidates am I interviewing for the new surgeon at this Catholic hospital?” That room is in Frank Bruni’s head and not in Vatican City.

You’ve likely heard the phrase “All politics is local.” Catholicism in many ways is as well. The Pope’s impact is most often felt in broad agenda setting—emphasizing the most important issues as he sees them. Popes are most effective at this when they are well liked. Go back and take a look at how pessimistic journalists and commentators were about the future of the Church before the selection of Pope Francis. For example, Paul Elie suggested in a New York Times opinion piece that it was time to give up the Church. He writes, “We are resigned to the fact that so much in the Roman Catholic Church is broken and won’t be fixed anytime soon.” Did anyone writing before the selection of Pope Francis imagine that the next pope would be named Time’s Person of the Year (for good reason) or for that matter that he would also appear on the cover of Rolling Stone in short order?

In three years Pope Francis has not been able to fix the problems of the Catholic Church. But I think most would agree that he has put the institution on a better path than where it was headed when he got it. People are listening. People who would have never done so before. In some countries sacramental practice and population indicators are pointing up, in others they are stable, and elsewhere there are declines. Often the reasons for these changes have nothing to do with who is pope. As I recently noted, many young former Catholics in the U.S. say they left the Church because they are unable to reconcile what they know about their faith with what they are learning about in science. It has absolutely nothing to do with the Pope Francis’ comments cited by Schmitz as “denunciations” of Catholics. Schmitz asks, “Why join a church…whose members like to throw stones?”

Throwing a stone is writing an Op-Ed asking “Has Pope Francis Failed?” in The New York Times and then declaring “there has been no Francis Effect” with insufficient empirical evidence. Pope Francis should not be judged a success or a failure with the assistance of a few pieces of survey data that actually show mixed trends in one country. In time we will be able to ask and answer whether Pope Francis has failed. I have no problem with Matthew Schmitz asking that question when that time comes. The part of that answer that is grounded in data should come from researchers (understanding margins of error, statistical significance, etc.) examining the global church rather than a literary editor who somehow got his personal gripes about Pope Francis published in The New York Times.

Schmitz provides this portrait of a pope who would succeed, “Those who wish to see a stronger church may have to wait for a different kind of pope. Instead of trying to soften the church’s teaching, such a man would speak of the way hard disciplines can lead to freedom. Confronting a hostile age with the strange claims of Catholic faith may not be popular, but over time it may prove more effective.”

So when that happens we’ll finally have a pope who hasn’t failed? Millennials will finally be slightly more likely (beyond margin of error) to receive Ashes on Ash Wednesday in the United States. Catholics in places like Nigeria, Vietnam, Mexico, and all over the world will be in such awe that their pope can finally reach American Millennials and convince them to go to Mass on a day they have no obligation to do so. 


Did You Know? Female Chancellors

The first lay woman to be appointed chancellor of a diocese retired this week, after 27 years in the position. The chancellor is the highest “ecclesial” or decision-making office a layperson can hold in the church and is often ranked second or third in authority after the bishop in a diocese. This position was not open to laypersons until the revised Code of Canon Law was issued in 1983 and Mary Jo Tully, retiring chancellor of Portland in Oregon, became the first woman chancellor in 1989.

By 1993 some 15 percent of the chancellors in U.S. dioceses were women. Ten years later, about a quarter of them were women – about equally distributed between women religious and other laywomen, many of them with a degree in either civil or canon law.

Today, more than three in ten diocesan chancellors are women but fewer of them are women religious. Among the larger dioceses with women chancellors are the Archdioceses of Los Angeles, Washington, and San Antonio as well as the Dioceses of San Bernardino, Dallas, Fresno, and Sacramento. As shown below there are no discernible regional patterns. This is increasingly common across the United States.

The research and content for this post are from CARA Senior Research Associate Mary Gautier. Dr. Gautier is also the Editor of The CARA Report ( should be reading it!).

Photo of Chancellor Tully from the Catholic Sentinel


Does Hillary Have A “Catholic Problem” Now?

In July there was a flurry of news stories about Donald Trump’s “Catholic problem” that became evident with the release of a national survey from the Pew Research Center conducted in June. Thankfully, this organization is one of the few in this election cycle to still show an interest in how religious affiliation, or lack thereof, affects vote intentions.

In that June survey, Hillary Clinton led Trump 56% to 39% among self-identified Catholics. The media, commentators, and politicians picked up and ran with the result as such:
  • “Trump is faring poorly among Roman Catholics.” National Review
  • “Why are so many Catholics down on Donald Trump?” Huffington Post 
  • “Catholic voters, who have been key to picking the winning ticket in almost every modern election, reject Trump decisively.” Religion News Service 
  • “Experts on American Catholics say Democrats have an opportunity to attract religious Catholic voters in a way they have not for decades.” National Journal 

Now with the conventions over and the campaigns headed toward Labor Day it appears Clinton may have also caught a “Catholic problem?” Is this stuff contagious? Did her support among Catholic registered voters drop 16 percentage points in two months?

The August poll includes the Green and Libertarian candidates. Obviously the Catholic shares are sub-samples with fewer respondents and thus larger margins of error than the overall poll results for both surveys. Some of the volatility may just be artifacts of these issues and in the end may not be very reflective of what we would have seen if the election were held in June or August.

Here is the reality… A majority of Americans see these candidates as unfavorable (Clinton, Trump). The 2016 election is not about voting for a candidate as much as it is voting against one. Turnout will be key. Of course not all registered voters are going to show up at the polls. Yet registered voters are the frame for many election polls at the moment. There are some polls looking at likely voters but the accuracy of these depends on the quality of the model. I don’t know why anyone would be confident at this point about predicting the likely turnout of voters given the candidacies of Trump and Bernie Sanders. There is a “new” segment of the electorate out there that hasn’t been active in the past and there are likely pieces of the old electorate that won’t bother showing up or voting for the top of the ticket.

One other note of caution. In the recent years there has been something quirky going on in election polling here and abroad (1, 2). Don’t be surprised if the election results look significantly different (beyond margin of error) than what is predicted in the pre-election polls or in how the exit polls turn out. Whether it is low response rates, poor sampling, or social desirability effects (respondents feeling embarrassed to state their vote intentions) there is a ghost in the election polling machine and it is likely to be visible again on Election Day here in the United States. Unfortunately, people tend to take polls too literally and this may only stir conspiracy theories of a “rigged” or “hacked” election.

What I can say is that the overall vote is likely to go as the vote of Catholics does. By no means is the “Catholic vote” a block but it is a historically definitive swing vote. While there are typically big differences between non-Hispanic white Catholic voters and Hispanic Catholic voters this matters most in states that are not competitive (e.g., California, Texas). The Trump campaign’s “Rust Belt” strategy is in states where Catholics are disproportionately non-Hispanic white and tend to vote Republican (doing so in 2012).

As a pollster I always want to trust an aggregation of polls over any single study. With only Pew taking religion seriously this election cycle we can’t aggregate Catholic results for a clearer portrait. With nearly all of the exit polls for the primaries excluding a religious affiliation question the data just aren’t out there. This is remarkable given that the “God Gap” is likely to be one of the decisive factors for Election 2016.  

RealClear Politics allows one to view what is happening for the overall electorate by aggregating polls. What is evident is that Hillary Clinton’s lead over Trump in August varies, on average, from about 3.4 percentage points to 8.4 percentage points depending on whether one is looking at likely voters or registered voters and whether it is a two-candidate choice or a four-candidate choice. One assumes that the result most reflective of a potential outcome is with likely voters choosing among four candidates. But then again, how good is the likely voter model being used? The figures below show the trends for the overall electorate as aggregated on RealClear Politics:

How useful are these trends? Not much. Instead what really matters is the population-weighted popular votes of each state in terms of Electoral College outcomes. In key swing states, Clinton holds sizeable and consistent leads over Trump. Don’t make too much out of individual polls which show leads counter to other surveys in a state. These can happen by chance or by flaw. They often lead to a “shock” headline in the paper but amount to little on Election Day.

Realistically, Trump needs to win the states Romney did in 2012 and then add Ohio, Florida, Iowa, and either Pennsylvania or Virginia. Looking at recent polls, given margin of error and differences in poll structure, Clinton and Trump are tied in Iowa. Clinton appears to have an edge in Ohio (+5) and Florida (+6). Clinton has big, perhaps insurmountable, leads in Virginia (+13) and Pennsylvania (+10). Of course there are also some Romney states that Trump is at risk of losing as well. All of the election prediction models have Clinton at about 80% likely to win at this point given these advantages at the state level. In some regard this election is quite “small.” It’s about the voters in just a handful of states. Catholics will be part of that story. Perhaps in the exit polls we will get a clearer picture of just what role they played. For now be wary of claims either candidate has a “Catholic problem.” We have too little data and what we do have presents a mixed picture.

Update (8/26): Proving my point on the volatile wackiness of the polls this year, PRRI also conducted a survey in early August (Aug. 10-16) and found Clinton leading Trump 55% to 32% among Catholic registered voters.  

Note: If you are a regular reader of this blog you already know that I (CARA researcher Mark Gray) am a political scientist and pollster who is profoundly apolitical. CARA is also an independent non-partisan research center. I am not registered to vote nor will I be. I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican. In political analysis and forecasting I always try to stick solely to the data.


Sacraments Today Updated

In 2008, CARA released results from a survey that measured a variety of different beliefs and practices among U.S. adult Catholics. Now, eight years later CARA has replicated some of these questions in a new project about religion and science. This post details the demographic, Catholic background, and religious practice changes we can identify during this period (...more on religion and science in the near future). We also include results for a few new belief related questions that weren’t asked in 2008. The new survey includes interviews with 1,010 randomly selected U.S. adults who self-identified their religion as Catholic (margin of sampling error of ±3.1 percentage points). The poll was conducted May 16 to 26, 2016 and was made possible by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

Entrance Into the Church
We have called attention to declines in the numbers of infant baptisms in the United States in the past. However, as shown in the figure below, we have also noticed an increase in children and teens being baptized after their first birthday. We see this in the Church’s sacramental numbers as well in the responses from the survey. Why this is occurring is still an open question. Twenty-three percent of Millennial Generation Catholics (born 1982 or later) were baptized as children or teens. By comparison, only 13% of Pre-Vatican II Generation (born before 1943) Catholics report this. Most Catholics entered the Church as infants and fewer than one in ten entered as adults.

In the total population, the percentage of Catholics who are baptized that go on to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation has remained steady with more than eight in ten adult Catholics reporting this. However, underneath this aggregate percentage there is change. Millennial Generation Catholics are less likely than older Catholics to have received Confirmation. 

Mass Attendance and Prayer
There has been no change in frequency of Mass attendance between 2008 and 2016. In fact, in all of CARA’s national polling since 2000, Mass attendance has only changed beyond margin of error on one occasion—shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. There was briefly a slight increase in weekly attendance in the months that followed.

At the same time, it is still the case that a majority of self-identified Catholics are not “parish-affiliated” and instead either attends Mass on Ash Wednesday, Easter, and/or Christmas or even less often. Among Millennials, two-thirds are infrequent Mass attenders and only 14% attends weekly.

In 2008, CARA asked respondents about praying the rosary but did not ask about prayer generally. In the 2016 survey respondents were asked, “Aside from religious services, about how often do you pray?” Overall, 40% of adult Catholics say they pray at least once a day. Nineteen percent pray at least once a week and 17% at least once a month.

What may be startling to some are the differences that emerge by generation. Among Millennials, more pray only a few times a year or less often (30%) than pray at least once a day (25%). Across generations declining frequency in prayer is nearly a linear trend. When coupled with frequency of Mass attendance, it appears Millennials are only infrequently involved in a conversation with God. These new data are a departure from previous trends.

Belief in God and the Bible
Overall, 96% of self-identified Catholics believe in God. This includes 74% who believe without doubts and 22% who believe but have some doubts from time to time. Four percent do not believe in God but are open to the possibility of God’s existence (i.e., agnostic) and 0.1% say they do not believe in God and are sure of this (i.e., atheist). Sixty-one percent of self-identified Catholics believe the Bible is the “inspired word of God” and 21 percent believe it is actually the word of God and is “to be taken literally, word-for-word.” Eighteen percent do not believe the Bible is the actual or inspired word of God.

Across generations there is one notable outlier—Millennials are more likely than older Catholics to have doubts that God exists. Fewer than two-thirds say they believe in God without doubt (64%).

There are few if any differences across generations in their perceptions of the Bible with older and younger Catholics responding similarly.

Observing Lent
One of the major findings of Sacraments Today back in 2008 was the zeal that many Millennials reported about this period of the liturgical calendar. They were generally more likely to report activity than older Catholics. Overall, there is little change in 2016 for all Catholics. Respondents are slightly less likely to make extra efforts to give money to the needy or to try to improve their personal habits or behavior.

However, there are changes in the observance of Lent among Millennials. Although there is not much change among Millennials in abstention from meat on Fridays during Lent, this group has become less likely to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday, to abstain from or give up other things beyond meat on Fridays, and to give additional money to the poor or try to do more to improve themselves. Note that the make-up of Millennials, the youngest adult generation, has changed over time as younger members of this cohort have entered adulthood since 2008.  

Sacrament of Reconciliation
Although U.S. adult Catholics rarely go to confession, their frequency of doing this has neither been falling nor been rising for more than a decade. More than four in ten don’t go to confession with any regularity. Nearly three in ten goes at least once a year.

There is not much variation in frequency of confession among the three youngest Catholic Generations. Pre-Vatican II Generation Catholics are less likely than younger Catholics to say they “never” go to confession and are more likely to say they go “several times a year.”

Catholic Education, Demographics, and Background
Adult Catholics in 2016 are slightly less likely than those in 2008 to have attended a Catholic primary or secondary school as children. They are also slightly more likely to have attended a Catholic college or university. Only three in ten Millennials have attended a Catholic primary school compared to a majority of Vatican II Generation (born 1943 to 1960) Catholics (54%). At the same time, Millennials are more likely than any other generation to have attended a Catholic college or university (12%). This is in part due to a majority of Millennials having attended college and fewer than half of Vatican II and Pre-Vatican II Catholics reporting this.

While many assume Millennials are more likely to be enrolled in parish-based religious education than older Catholics, this is not the case. Only 36% of Millennials say they were enrolled in parish-based religious education at some point compared to about half or more Catholics in older generations. The consequences of fewer young Catholics receiving a formal Catholic religious education are broad. We have noted these related to school enrollments and will soon be highlighting the impact of this on Catholics leaving the faith as well as on Catholics’ understanding of the relationship between faith and reason (...stay tuned).

It should come as no surprise that Catholics have become more racially and ethnically diverse since 2008. Through generational replacement, immigration, and varying sub-group fertility rates the share of Catholic adults who self-identify as non-Hispanic white has declined (-6 percentage points and the percentage self-identifying as Hispanic or Latino has grown (+6 percentage points).  Fewer than half of Millennial Generation Catholics self-identifies their race and/or ethnicity as non-Hispanic white (49%).

Results regarding marital status may stand out as running counter to some expectations given general cultural changes in the United States. A growing number of adult Catholics report that they are married and have a Catholic spouse (41% in 2016 compared to 34% in 2008). This growth is a result of fewer reporting they have never married, are living with a partner, or are separated or divorced.

As CARA has long reported, the population center of the Catholic Church in the United States is shifting to the South and West and away from the Northeast and Midwest. More Catholics reside in the South than in any other single region of the United States.

Finally, one can see the generational replacement occurring among adult Catholics by looking at the changing sizes of Catholic cohorts. In 2008, Pre-Vatican II Generation Catholics made up 17% of the adult population. Today, they are 6%. Millennials on the other hand have grown from15% of the population to 26%. The largest portion of the adult Catholic population is of the Post-Vatican II Generation, born 1961 to 1981 (38%).

As Pre-Vatican II Catholics become a smaller and smaller share of the Catholic population in the future, the Church can expect to experience declines in Mass attendance and further growth in racial and ethnic diversity.

Baptism image courtesy of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston


Laudato Si’: Catholic Attitudes about Climate Change

A year after Pope Francis released his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, Catholic adults in the United States are generally more likely to be concerned about climate change than other Christians according to a new survey conducted by CARA. Catholics are also more likely than other adults to believe they have a moral responsibility to personally do what they can to combat climate change according to results from the poll conducted May 16 and May 26, 2016.

Overall, 63% of U.S. adults agree that temperatures on Earth are getting warmer, on average, in response to higher concentrations of heat trapping greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide and methane. Additionally, 24% neither agree nor disagree with this. Only 13% disagree. Sixty-five percent of adult Catholics agree with the statement regarding climate change, 12% disagree, and 23% neither agree nor disagree. Evangelical Christians are the least likely to agree with the statement at 51%. Seven in ten or more of those with a non-Christian affiliation (71%) or no Christian affiliation (70%) agreed with the statement.

Sixty-seven percent of U.S. adults agree that increasing concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere like carbon dioxide and methane are largely a result of human activity (e.g., industrial activity, transportation, as well as energy and food production). Twenty-one percent neither agree nor disagree with this. Only 10% disagree. 

Sixty-eight percent of Catholics agree that increasing concentrations of heat trapping gasses is largely a result of human activity. Evangelical Christians are the least likely to agree that this is the case (59%). Other Christians have similar levels of agreement with the statement as Catholics (68%). Seven in ten or more of those with a non-Christian affiliation (79%) or without an affiliation (70%) agree.

Sixty-percent of Catholics agree with both statements (strongly or somewhat) that the planet is becoming warmer in response to higher concentrations of heat-trapping gasses and that the increase in these gasses is largely a result of human activity. A minority of Evangelical Christians agree with both statements (46%).

Catholic attitudes are similar to that of all U.S. adults combined. However, level of agreement with both statements is higher among those with a non-Christian affiliation (67%) or without an affiliation (65%). Note that disagreement levels are much lower and many choose to neither agree nor disagree with the statements.

Twenty-eight percent of U.S. adults recall that they heard or read about Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment a year ago. Generally, the public has low awareness of specific papal statements and are often more generally aware of what the Pope has been saying or how he has been appearing in the news. Questions about specific documents often have low awareness. The Associated Press conducted a survey in March 2015 asking the public if they were aware that Pope Francis was about to release an encyclical about global warming. At that time, 6% of adults indicated an awareness of this.

In July 2015, after the release of Laudato Si’, the Associated Press found that 31% had heard of the encyclical. The current survey, a year later, shows awareness has fallen just a few percentage points over time.

Catholic recall of the encyclical is only slightly higher than the general public at 32%. Majorities of all group say they don’t recall of hearing or reading about Laudato Si’.

“Strong” agreement with the two statements about climate change, that the Earth is warming and that this is largely a result of human activities, is about 15 percentage points higher, on average, among those who recall hearing or reading about the encyclical compared to those who do not recall this.

Only about 22 percent of U.S. adults say they think they generally agree with Pope Francis about the environment and climate change. However, even fewer say they do not agree with him on this topic (19%). Given that only 28% of adults are aware of the Pope’s encyclical it is not surprising that most say they “don’t know” if they generally agree with Pope Francis on this issue. Catholics are the most likely to be sure of their agreement (34%), however half say they “don’t know.” Only 15% of Catholics are sure they are in disagreement.

Among those who say they generally agree with Pope Francis about the environment and climate change, agreement (strong or somewhat) that the Earth is warming and that this is largely caused by human activity are comparatively higher than those who say they know they are not in agreement with Pope Francis (88% compared to 28% on warming and 90% compared to 39% on the link to human activity). This result is also evident among Catholic adults based on their assessment of their agreement with Pope Francis (86% compared to 28% on warming and 87% compared to 32% on the link to human activity).

More than one in five adults, 22%, in the United States believe God has played a role in the changes observed in Earth’s climate in recent years. Even fewer Catholics believe this (17%). Evangelical Christians are most likely to agree that God has played a role with more than four in ten responding “yes” (46%). Note that a quarter responded “don’t know” or refused rather than yes or no (26% of all adults and 28% of Catholics).

Respondents who said they believe God has played a role were asked the open-ended question, “What role do you believe God has played in recent climate changes?” Although 22% said they believed this, only 14% decided to respond to the open-ended question asking them to describe God’s role. Many responses cite one of two concepts: that this is all part of God’s plan or that God has control of everything that is happening. A representative sampling of these responses are shown below.
  • All changes are part of His plan We do not need to know, or even understand the plan.
  • As stated in Bible there is a end.
  • Because he is the creator of all things. He controls everything.
  • Every thing is created by God whether it be good or bad.
  • God already knows everything that has and will happen, He gives us a free will to make our choices, but He also knows what we will choose. He knew the climate would change and knows what will come of all of it. He will direct as He feels fit to do.
  • God created a universe containing the earth and it's life (plants, animals...), which has a natural evolutionary process, which includes climate changes.
  • God decides the weather.
  • God is in complete control of all that happens, either by His active will or by his permissive allowance.
  • God set up a climatology system that has naturally occurring cycles. It repeats over time. There have been many slightly cooler periods, just as there have been many slightly warmer periods. This is nothing new.
  • I believe that God can do anything he wants to do.
  • The Bible describes the times of "Jacobs troubles." Weather will get increasingly worse, just as famine, death, disease etc. will.

Fewer than one in ten of those who believe God has played a role, say they don’t know or are not sure of what that role has been.

Fourteen percent of all adults believe that climate change is the “most important” problem facing the world today. Catholics are more likely than others to say climate change is the most important problem (18%). A majority of U.S. adults and Catholic adults believe it is either the “most important” problem or a “very important” problem (60% and 66%, respectively).

Evangelical Christians are the least likely to say climate change is the “most important” or a “very important” problem (10% and 39%, respectively). More than one in five Evangelicals combined say it is either “a little” or “not at all” important of a problem (12% and 10%, respectively).

Sixty-three percent of U.S. adults and 68% of Catholic adults say they believe it is their moral responsibility to do what they can to combat climate change. Majorities of all religious sub-groups agree with this statement. Respondents who recall hearing or reading about the Pope’s encyclical are slightly more likely than those who are sure they did not to say they believe they personally have a moral responsibility to combat climate change (72% compared to 65%). This gap largest among those without any religious affiliation (83% who recall the encyclical compared to 62% who do not).

Catholic respondents were asked directly about how the statements of Church leaders had impacted their belief that they have a moral responsibility to combat climate change. Nearly a third of Catholics, 32%, say statements by Pope Francis led them to strengthen their belief that they have a moral responsibility to what they can to combat climate change. Catholics are less likely to indicate statements by their pastor (19%), bishop (17%), or some other person in Church ministry (17%) had led them to strengthen their belief in their moral responsibility to combat climate change.

Note that responses to this question are dependent on their bishop, pastor, or other Church minister making a statement about climate change.

Respondents were also asked about their beliefs that society should take steps to address human-caused climate change.

Overall, 72% believe society should take steps to combat climate change. Note this is higher than the share who believe they personally have a moral responsibility to do so (63%). Majorities of all religious sub-groups believe society should be taking steps to combat climate change. This is also the case whether each sub-group recalls hearing or reading about the Pope’s encyclical or not. However, among respondents with no religious affiliation there is a noticeable gap where 95% of those who recall hearing or reading about the Pope’s statement believe society should be taking steps to combat climate change compared to 77% who do not recall hearing or reading about this. Among Catholics there is no difference between those recalling reading or hearing about Laudato Si’ and those who are sure they did not read or hear about this.

It may be possible that the Pope’s encyclical has had a greater impact among those without a religious affiliation than Christians, and specifically Catholics. The data may indicates that Pope Francis has strengthened the case that individuals and society have a moral responsibility to act against climate change among those who are among the least religious in the United States.

One aspect of the Catholic Church that the public, and Catholics specifically, appear to get wrong about the Church and climate change is the perception that Pope Francis is the first pope to address the Church’s position on the environment and climate change. In fact his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was often referred to (including by National Geographic) as “The Green Pope.” It is also the case that Pope Saint John Paul II was also vocal about Catholics needing to respect and protect nature. Yet, 32% of all adults agree (strongly or somewhat) that Pope Francis is the first in the Church to address the environment and climate change—including 42% of Catholic adults agreeing with this statement.

Again, given the general low awareness of specific statements made by popes, it is likely the case that Catholics and non-Catholics alike are so much more aware of Laudato Si’ than something Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI or Pope Saint John Paul II said or wrote about the environment that gained less attention by the media that they believe Pope Francis is the first pontiff to address this topic.

About the CARA Catholic Poll (CCP)
CARA partnered with GfK Custom Research (formerly Knowledge Networks), a highly respected polling firm that has assembled and maintains a large national panel of U.S. households using random probability sampling to conduct the survey. GfK was founded by academic social scientists and its methodology is highly rigorous. Their surveys are regularly used in academic research that is published in peer-reviewed journals in a variety of fields as well as by journalists and the government. Contacted initially by phone (random digit dial) or mail (randomly), each participating household in the national GfK panel of households agrees to be available for online surveys. The panel is not restricted to existing computer and/or Internet users. Those persons who are sampled and asked to join the GfK panel are supplied with subsidized internet access or a television appliance to take self-administered on-screen surveys. Thus respondents take surveys on computers, televisions, tablets, or smartphones. CARA surveys in English or Spanish at the respondent’s choice. These methods ensure that GfK’s panel is reflective as possible of the national population. The panel’s coverage of the population is very high, 97 percent, well above standard telephone polling methods. 

Interviews were conducted with 1,927 respondents between May 16 and May 26, 2016. The primary sample includes 1,010 self-identified Catholics. Additionally, 917 non-Catholics were interviewed. Of the non-Catholics, 311 are Evangelical Christians. Another 357 have some other Christian affiliation. A total of 76 had some other non-Christian affiliation and 167 had no religious affiliation (including 81 with no religion and 86 who are atheists or agnostics).

Six respondents declined to state a religious affiliation. Statistical weights, created by GfK, are used to approximate the results for the U.S. adult population. A more complete description of the study and its methodology is here. For additional information about the survey contact me at or 202-687-0885.

Image courtesy of United Nations Photo.

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