Fall 2015 Articles, Flash Polls, Misc, Religion, Social Issues

The Inattentive Student Body: Who Paid Attention to Pope Francis’s Visit?


According to the most recent PackPoll, following Pope Francis’s visit to the U.S. in late September, just 36% of State undergraduates said that they followed the Pope’s visit “fairly closely” or “very closely.” There were many reasons to have been interested, including the fact that this is the first ever non-European Pope.

Democrats and Republicans alike were largely uninterested. While Six-in-ten (62%) Democrats said they followed the news about the Pope “not too closely” or “not at all closely.” Republicans were hardly any different – with 64% of them saying the same thing.


When students were asked about other news stories, disinterest was common. Although more attentive, still just half of Democratic students (51%) reported they were paying “a fair amount” or “a lot” of attention to 2016 election news, about as much as Republicans (53%). Students were the least attentive to news about the nuclear agreement with Iran (about 70% of both Democrats and Republicans said they were not following this story).

Interestingly, while just 40% of students were paying attention to news about Kim Davis, Democrats were more likely to be attentive (47%) than Republicans (38%). As with the other three issues issues, Independents were the least likely to pay attention to Kim Davis (25%).

So, who did pay more attention to news about the Pope? Over half of self-identified Catholics said they followed the Pope’s visit closely. Non-Catholics, in contrast, were much less likely to be paying attention to news about Pope Francis – only one-third (33%) reported that they were following Francis’ visit “fairly closely” or “very closely.”


Our survey also finds that Catholics and non-Catholics only differed in their attention to news stories when it came to Pope Francis’s visit. In fact, Catholics were slightly less interested in news about the 2016 election (43% versus 48%) and Kim Davis (34% versus 40%), and equally disinterested in Iran (28%).


Digging deeper to explore how party identification and religion intersect, attention to the Popes visit was no longer as bi-partisan. While 43% of Catholics who called themselves Democrats said they followed the Pope’s visit “fairly closely” or “very closely,” that percentage skyrocketed among Republican Catholics to 68%.


Overall, our findings mimic the results attained by the PEW Research Center. PEW found that 62% of U.S. Catholics were following Pope Francis’s visit “fairly closely” or “very closely” – very similar to our number at NC State (56%).

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

One Comment

  1. That pie chart comparing Catholics to non-Catholics is really bothering me. Why would you use a pie chart when comparing two percentages that do not come from the same population? One portion is 56% of Catholics while the other is 33% percent of non-Catholics. You cannot throw both of those numbers into the same pie chart.

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