35% of American Catholics Say the Pope Influenced Their Views on Global Warming

More Americans, especially Catholics, are worried about global warming after Pope’s visit

November 4, 2015 – (Faifax, VA) More Americans and more American Catholics are worried about global warming and believe it will have significant impacts on human beings, after Pope Francis released his encyclical, Laudato Si’, and visited the United States in September. A new national survey released today finds that some of these changes in Americans’ and American Catholics’ views on global warming can be attributed to the Pope’s actions, as 17 percent of Americans and 35 percent of Catholics say his position on global warming influenced their own views of the issue.

“Americans—and American Catholics in particular—have personally grown more concerned about the consequences of global warming since Pope Francis began speaking out forcefully on the issue,” said lead-researcher Dr. Edward Maibach, of George Mason University. “Many of the largest shifts of public opinion correspond closely with Pope Francis’s specific points of emphasis.”

These findings come from within-subject surveys of a nationally representative sample of American adults conducted in the Spring, prior to the encyclical’s release and again in the Fall, after the Pope’s U.S. visit.

“Americans primarily view global warming as a scientific and environmental issue,” said lead-researcher Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz of Yale University. “But climate change affects all aspects of our lives and Pope Francis’s emphasis on the human and moral dimensions of global warming has resonated with many Americans.”

Key findings include:

Americans have become more concerned about global warming

  • More Americans say that global warming is happening (Americans: from 62% in March to 66% in October, +4 points; American Catholics: from 64% in March to 74% in October, +10 points).
  • More Americans have become worried about global warming (Americans: from 51% in March to 59% in October, +8 points; American Catholics: from 53% to 64%, +11 points).
  • More Americans say that the issue of global warming has become very or extremely important to them personally (Americans: from 19% to 26%, +7 points; American Catholics: from 15% to 23%, +8 points).

More Americans think global warming will harm people here and abroad

  • More think global warming will cause a great deal or moderate harm to people in developing countries (Americans: from 48% to 63%, +15 points; American Catholics: from 45% to 62%, +17 points).
  • More think global warming will harm the world’s poor (Americans: from 49% to 61%, +12 points; American Catholics: from 42% to 62%, +20 points).
  • More think global warming will harm future generations of people (Americans: from 60% to 70%, +10 points; American Catholics: from 63% to 74%, +11 points).
  • More Americans (from 48% to 57%, +9 points), and more American Catholics (from 45% to 58%, +13 points), think global warming will harm people in the United States a great deal or a moderate amount.

Aligned with Pope Francis’s message, Americans are more likely to think global warming is:

  • A moral issue (Americans: from 32% to 38%, +6 points; American Catholics: from 34% to 42%, +8 points).
  • A social fairness issue (Americans: from 21% to 29%, +8 points; American Catholics: from 21% to 25%, +4 points).
  • A religious issue (Americans: from 8% to 12%, +4 points; American Catholics: from 6% to 13%, +7 points).

In response to the study results, Dan Misleh, Executive Director of the Catholic Climate Covenant and unaffiliated with the study said, “Pope Francis and his encyclical, Laudato Si’, could not have come at a more critical time as the world turns its eyes toward Paris.  In this survey, we now see evidence that this messenger and his message has made a significant difference, especially among Catholics.  I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that when historians look back on who stepped up to lead during the climate crisis, Pope Francis will be at the top of everyone’s list.”

These findings come from two waves of a nationally-representative survey (Climate Change in the American Mind) conducted about six months apart among the same respondents in both waves. The surveys were conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (http://environment.yale.edu/climate-communication) and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication (http://www.climatechangecommunication.org).

Interview dates: The first wave (905 adults age 18+) was conducted February 27 from March 10, 2015, prior to the June 18 release of Pope Francis’s encyclical on global warming. The second wave (among the same 905 adults) was conducted September 30 to October 19, 2015, after Pope Francis’s visit to the United States, which ended on September 27. The average margin of error for the total population is +/- 3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

The research was funded by the 11th Hour Project, the Energy Foundation, the Grantham Foundation, the V.K. Rasmussen Foundation, the Sierra Club, and The Nature Conservancy.

In addition to Drs. Maibach and Leiserowitz, the reserachers included Dr. Connie Roser-Renouf and Dr. Teresa Myers of George Mason University, and Dr. Seth Rosenthal and Geoff Feinberg of Yale University.

For questions about the survey, please contact:

Edward Maibach, 703-993-1587, emaibach@gmu.edu

Anthony Leiserowitz, 203-432-4865, anthony.leiserowitz@yale.edu

For more information, please go to: http://environment.yale.edu/climate-communication/article/the-francis-effect/