Only Four in 10 Catholics Aware of Pope’s Climate Encyclical, Yale Polls Finds

Note: Yale School of the Environment (YSE) was formerly known as the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES). News articles and events posted prior to July 1, 2020 refer to the School's name at that time.

While most Americans believe it is appropriate for Pope Francis to take a public stand on global warming, only three in 10 were aware that he called climate action a moral imperative in a historic encyclical issued in June, according to a new poll conducted by Yale researchers and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. 
Only 31 percent of respondents were aware of the Pope’s encyclical, according to the poll conducted through online and telephone interviews from July 17 to July 19. And only 40 percent of Catholics were aware of his encyclical. 
“Even though the Pope’s encyclical is a major theological statement, fewer than 2 in 5 churchgoing Catholics heard about it from their priest in the month after it was released,” said Anthony Leiserowitz from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. “But this may change when Pope Francis visits the United States in September to bring his message personally.
Some of the poll’s other key findings include:

  • Most Americans say they think it’s appropriate for the pope to take a public stand on global warming despite few viewing it as a religious issue. 
  • Catholics mirror non-Catholic Americans in their attitudes about whether global warming is happening and their views about the appropriateness of the pope’s recent encyclical. 
  • Over three-quarters of Americans say climate change is an environmental and scientific issue. Few consider it to be an issue relating to social justice, poverty, or religion.

“This survey indicates that the Pope’s message on global warming has not broken through to a majority of Catholics or Americans,” said Trevor Tompson, director of The AP-NORC Center. “This is not too surprising given the survey found that few people consider the issue a religious or social justice one.” 
In June, Pope Francis issued a 192-page encyclical that called global action on climate change and environmental degradation a moral imperative for all humans. In the encyclical — the first in the Church’s history to confront the environment — the pope assailed the consumerism and wastefulness of modern life, linking stewardship of the natural world with justice for “the poorest and most vulnerable people” and calling for a transformation of economic systems and political policies in order to avert environmental catastrophe.
The new survey was conducted as part of a partnership between Yale and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. In an earlier poll, the partnership reported that most Americans say the U.S. should take a leadership role in combating global warming, but that Americans tend to place a low priority on addressing global warming when compared with other environmental concerns.
The AP-NORC Center is a collaboration of the Associated Press and NORC at the University of Chicago. Created in 2011, the center taps into the power of social science research and the highest-quality journalism to bring key information to people across the nation and throughout the world.
– Kevin Dennehy    203 436-4842