A new survey by Pew Research Center shows that U.S. Catholics are slightly ahead of the curve compared to the general public regarding climate change. And like the rest of the country, views among Catholics can be largely predicted by political partisanship.
While 68 percent of the general public said they believe that Earth is warming, 71 percent of all Catholics do. When broken down by political parties, factions among Catholics have a clearer rift: 85 percent who identify themselves as Democrats agree that the Earth is warming, with 72 percent of independents and about half of Republicans (51 percent).
Figures drop, however, when asked if they believe that warming is a consequence of human activity. Less than half of the general public thinks so (45 percent), similar to all Catholics (47 percent). More Catholic Democrats believe humans are the cause (62 percent), but less than a quarter of Catholic Republicans agree (24 percent). These numbers closely resemble those who believe global warming is a very serious problem: 46 percent of the general public agrees with that notion, while 48 percent of all Catholics do (an additional 26 percent saying it is "somewhat serious").
Of Catholics, roughly six in 10 Democrats believe warming is a serious problem (64 percent), as well as almost half of independents (49 percent), and less than a quarter of Republicans (24 percent). And 22 percent of Catholics say there is no solid evidence that Earth is getting warmer.
The past couple of years have shown a steady rise among those who see global warming as a very serious problem, from a third in 2013 to nearly half in 2015, Pew reported.
That trend also occurred among most major religious groups, including Catholics, in the U.S. While Catholic Democrats saw a 20-point increase in those who say global warming is a very serious problem — from 44 percent in 2013 to 64 percent today — Catholic Republicans saw a more modest climb, from 14 to 24 percent.
But Pope Francis' favorability among U.S. Catholics could sway deniers in the very near future, with Thursday's highly anticipated encyclical on the environment expected to address the dangers and moral implications of climate change.
A large majority of both the general public and U.S. Catholics view Francis favorably: 64 percent of all adults and 86 percent of Catholics. One in 10 U.S. adults sees him unfavorably, along with only 4 percent of Catholics. And though a large majority of Americans would describe Francis as compassionate (94 percent), humble (91 percent) and open-minded (89 percent), nearly one in five view him as too liberal (19 percent) or naive (15 percent).
The majority of Catholics, however, agree that Francis is excellent or good at addressing environmental issues (53 percent), a quarter says he's been "only fair," 4 percent believe he's done a poor job of it, and 18 percent have no opinion.
Catholics sit right in between Protestants (62 percent) and the religiously unaffiliated (77 percent) regarding a belief in global warming. But in analyzing the survey, Pew found that political identities and race/ethnicity are more accurately linked to environmental stances than religious affiliation. The survey was conducted between May 5 and June 7 on landlines and cellphones among a national sample of 5,122 adults, including 1,016 self-identified Catholics.
[Soli Salgado is an NCR Bertelsen intern. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Graphs by Mick Forgey.]