New Pew Research Center Poll on Obama, Catholics and the Notre Dame Commencement Finds Deep Divisions Among Catholics

Contact: Loralei Coyle, 202.419.4556 or Robbie Mills, 202.419.4564


Washington, DC - 04/30/2009 - A new poll by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that while most Catholics who have heard about the issue support President Barack Obama’s visit to Notre Dame, deep divisions exist between the most-observant Catholics and those who are less observant. These two groups also are divided over their assessment of Obama’s job performance.

Conducted from April 23-27, 2009, among 2,003 adults, the survey reveals that most Catholics who have heard about the issue support the University of Notre Dame’s decision to invite Obama to speak and receive an honorary degree at their May 17 commencement, even though he supports legal abortion and embryonic stem cell research. However, among white, non-Hispanic Catholics, those who attend worship services at least once a week express much higher levels of disapproval of the visit. Among weekly attending white Catholics, a plurality (45%) says it was wrong for Notre Dame to invite Obama, while the majority of less-observant Catholics (56%) take the opposite point of view.

A similar split appears between more-observant and less-observant Catholics in assessing Obama’s job performance as president. While the most recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press finds that fully two-thirds of Catholics say they approve of Obama’s performance, the same poll shows that weekly attending white Catholics are now noticeably more negative toward Obama compared with earlier this year. In fact, a plurality of this group (45%) now disapproves of the job Obama is doing. These negative numbers have more than doubled in recent months, up from 20% in February.

The People-Press poll also shows that the balance of Catholic opinion leans in support of both abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research, even though recent polling suggests that, as with the public overall, Catholics’ views on abortion have moved in a more conservative direction over the past year. However, the Catholic community remains deeply divided on these issues depending on frequency of Mass attendance.

Read the complete findings Obama, Catholics and the Notre Dame Commencement on the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life's Web site.

If you are interested in arranging an interview with a Pew Forum researcher or need more information, please contact Loralei Coyle at 202.419.4556 or lcoyle@pewforum.org or Robbie Mills at 202.419.4564 or rmills@pewforum.org.

The Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life delivers timely, impartial information on issues at the intersection of religion and public affairs. The Pew Forum is a nonpartisan, nonadvocacy organization and does not take positions on policy debates. Based in Washington, D.C., the Pew Forum is a project of the Pew Research Center, which is funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

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