The Pope is obviously an important figure to nearly all Catholics around the world – he is the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church, and inevitably he takes stances that are political. During his papal visit to the United States a few weeks ago, Pope Francis met with Congress and spoke about some important political issues including economic inequality and religious freedoms. Given Pope Francis’s willingness to weigh in on politically salient events, as well as a recent poll indicating most US adults hold a favorable view of him, PackPoll decided to conduct a survey to understand whether NCSU students also viewed the Pope favorably.
Our poll found that a majority of NCSU students hold positive views about Pope Francis. Exactly how positive depends in part on whether students were told they could answer by saying they had no opinion. By contrast, most media polls encourage respondents to report holding an opinion one way or another. When we mimic media polling, hardly anyone reports a negative view. Indeed, 85% of NCSU students said that they either had a “very favorable” or a “favorable” view of the Pope.
Yet, half the time we give students the option to say, “no opinion,” and when we did about one-third of them gave that answer. Now, just 59% said they had a favorable view of the Pope. Nevertheless, just 9% said they had an unfavorable view of the Pope in this version of the question, suggesting that almost all students who are pressed to answer will pick the favorable answer option.
Our results are consistent with recent surveys of U.S. adults. According to the PEW, for example, which also allowed respondents to say they had no opinion (“they could not rate him”), 68% had a favorable opinion of him, while just 12% had an unfavorable opinion.
So why do most people that lack an opinion about the Pope report having a favorable one when they are encouraged to choose? Considering the religious significance of the Pope’s position, this may be the result of what is known as a “social desirability bias.” Social desirability describes the tendency of people to give answers to questions they think others would find more socially acceptable. Respondents who are pressured to pick one side of an issue will use social cues as well as past experiences to pick the answer that they think portrays them in the best possible light. We suspect this is the case when students (and adults) are asked to evaluate the pope.
These are the results for this semester’s first “Flash Poll” about the Pope and related issues (October 5-6, 2015). The survey was administered over the internet to a random sample of 3,500 NCSU undergraduates, generating a 27% response rate for the first question, and a 24% response rate by the time our the last question was asked, because some respondents dod not complete the entire survey. Sampling error is higher than +/-3.3% for the first question because only half received one version of it. Sampling error is also higher for results that are reported for sub-groups. In addition to sampling error, other forms of error occur in surveys, such as confusion about question wording or the order of questions, but these are not precisely quantifiable. We do not apply post-stratification sample weights to adjust for possible demographic imbalances in our sample because we did not measure known population characteristics such as students’ year in school, race or gender.
Click here to see the full set of results: Toplines Pope Report