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.


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 scientists 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

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