Report

Obama, Catholics and the Notre Dame Commencement

  • April 30, 2009
  • By Luis Lugo,Gregory Smith, and Scott F. Clement

Most Catholics who have heard about the issue support the University of Notre Dame's decision to invite President Barack Obama to speak and receive an honorary degree at its May 17 commencement, even though he supports abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research. But a new poll conducted by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life also finds a deep division on this issue between the most-observant Catholics and those who are less observant, as defined by frequency of worship service attendance.

These findings are consistent with Catholic's overall views of Obama: a majority voted for him in the 2008 presidential election and express approval of his performance in office thus far. The new findings are also consistent with Catholics' views on abortion and embryonic stem cell research, with pluralities in the poll expressing support for each. But a division between the most-observant Catholics and less-observant Catholics also is apparent on these issues.

In both their awareness and views of the Notre Dame controversy, Catholics look very much like the public overall. Only about half of Catholics have heard about the controversy and fewer than one-in-five (19%) have heard a lot about it. Among the general population, 48% have heard of the controversy and 16% have heard a lot about it. Overall, about half of Catholics support the decision to invite Obama to deliver the commencement address and receive an honorary degree in spite of his support for abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research. Far fewer (28%) say Notre Dame was wrong to have invited Obama and more than one-in-five Catholics (22%) express no opinion on the matter. Among the population overall, 48% say Notre Dame made the right decision to invite Obama, 25% say it was the wrong decision and 27% express no opinion.

Read the full report Obama, Catholics and the Notre Dame Commencement on the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life Web site.