March 27, 2014

U.S. Catholics mirror general public on views of inequality

When the White House announced in January that President Obama would travel to Rome this month, it said the president was looking forward to “discussing with Pope Francis their shared commitment to fighting poverty and growing inequality.” Both men have addressed a growing gap between rich and poor, and the meeting today was dubbed the “inequality summit.”


The two leaders are meeting at a time when more Americans say they have a very or mostly favorable view of the pontiff (66%) than say the same about the president (51%). And significantly fewer have an unfavorable view of Pope Francis (11%) than see Obama unfavorably (45%).

U.S. Catholic bishops have said that Catholic teaching on social justice issues is “a central and essential element of our faith.” A 2013 Pew Research survey asked U.S. Catholics an open-ended question: What is the most important way the Catholic Church helps society today? More mentioned helping the poor or other charitable works (27%) than any other response.

Since his election a year ago, the Vatican released an “apostolic exhortation” that laid out his vision of a world that is more socially inclusive of the poor, and derided “the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few.”

Many U.S. Catholics are supportive of government action meant to address poverty and economic equality – including raising the minimum wage, according to a survey we conducted with USA TODAY in January. But they are not necessarily more supportive of such action than the U.S. public as a whole, and are less supportive than the religiously unaffiliated.

For example, when asked how much the government should do to reduce poverty, 47% of U.S. Catholics say “a lot” and an additional 31% say “some.” Among the general public, 53% say “a lot” and 29% say “some.” Religiously unaffiliated Americans are particularly likely to answer “a lot” (59%), while 26% say “some.” White evangelical Protestants (39%) and white mainline Protestants (41%) are somewhat less likely than the unaffiliated to say “a lot.”

The results are similar on the question of how much the government should do to reduce the gap between the rich and everyone else. The share of Catholics (42%) saying “a lot” is roughly the same as the share of the general public (43%) that takes the same position on this question, while, again, religiously unaffiliated Americans are more likely to say “a lot” (56%) and white evangelicals (30%) and white mainline Protestants (28%) are less likely to do so.

As a group, Catholics are roughly similar to the general public on education and income, according to aggregated data from 2012 surveys in our “’Nones’ on the Rise” report. About three-in-ten Catholics have at least a college degree (29%), the same percentage as the general public overall. About 32% of Catholics have an annual family income of at least $75,000, compared with 29% of the general public.

Of course, partisan differences and overall views of government also affect answers to these questions. In fact, the partisan gap on many of these questions is much larger than any differences by religious group. Among the general public, two-thirds of Democrats (67%) say the government should do a lot to reduce poverty, compared with 27% of Republicans.

Topics: Catholics and Catholicism, Income Inequality

  1. is a Senior Writer/Editor for the Pew Research Center Center’s Religion & Public Life Project.


  1. Rigo3 years ago

    I grew up in Pittsburgh and went to the Catholic university there (Duquesne University). Pennsylvania is souppsed to be a key state in Obama’s plans for a 2012 victory. The Catholics congregate in the two pro-Democrat party cities: Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.If the Calilics can lobby and organize successfully against Obama, then there is a good chance this hard-left president will lose the state. Yes Penssylvania is a rust-belt state, with a declining population, but it still carries a large # of electoral votes. I hope the Catholics can organize. I agree that Obama care represents a complex web of bureaucratic rules to stifle Catholic beliefs. I hope Obama gets burned by this.

  2. Hossam3 years ago

    if you looked clolesy at the catholic social teachings in the cathicism you would sea everything we teach is of love. marrage is the onyl place for sexual relations. we are called to lived chase lives and only be with the one we truly love for who they are not a physical being. on the issue of homosexuals the catholic church does not hate or banish such people, but they simple do not aprove of the life style. someone who is “gay” by choice or bye nature if you beleave eather may be called to something higher. you dont not need to serve God by being with someone else. the catholic church may be old fashoned. but what is wrong with tradition. you still celibrate some holliday dont you? concerning preasts and other church leaders who supposedly dont know what they are talking about have you ever thought that being selibut may allow you to see things with diffent eyes or maybe its the wisdome with age.

  3. Julius3 years ago

    “Those people have litlte in common with the individuals who are for limited government and want to see the welfare and warfare state to be eliminated”…Well vangeIV there is absolutely nothing factual about your statement, zilch, zero, nada…Where you come up with some of this baloney I can’t even begin to guess…BTW have you ever been to a TEA party rally where Ms. Palin was one of the speakers?

  4. Roel3 years ago

    The best Catholic films I have seen -are probably the Mission and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s the Gospel adicrocng to St Matthew. The former is absolutely heartbreaking – especially the scene in which the former slave trader turned Jesuit Robert De Niro has his chains literally broken by a Guarani tribesman, after he had spent most of his life putting them in chains.The latter despite the directors opinions is pretty much a fair and literal reflection on the Gospel.

  5. Daniel Hunt3 years ago

    Stop and rad the article. Stop , pray, refect and respond.

  6. Mustapha3 years ago

    What was the Muslim Brotherhood set by Muhammad Rasulullah aiming it? Was there its pattern in the Torah?

  7. James Glasscock3 years ago

    Take all the wealth in the US, put it in a pile and distribute it equally. In 18 months, the people who had the larger amounts will have it again, simply because the others are too dumb to manage it.

  8. Ellen Cora3 years ago

    Would be helpful to ask people WHAT the gov’t should do to help those living in poverty. I’d be interested to see what % of people specify things like education, job training, etc. — i.e., helping people to help themselves, vs. welfare handouts and giveaways.

    Thank you.

  9. Robert Wood3 years ago

    I love the way the Pope lead. Leadership is about people not about leaders. Governor Jerry Brown of California was eduicated as Jesuit. There is something about them. President Obama is a leader that has faced the most difficult odds of our times, yet he won two elections.

  10. slk3 years ago

    millions do nothing but sit and collect!!! do you think this has something to do with this??? in capitalism, the spread will always get wider, it’s human nature!!! on one hand you’ll have those who make an effort, with some doing better then others. on the other you’ll have those who’ll sit and whine, and blame someone else for their misfortune!!! when it comes to the lottery, the less you have, the more you play!!! give a million people a million each, and after a little time, how many will be worse off then before??? no one forced that couple, who combined for 30 g’s a year, to buy a house, a 300g”s house no less!!! do you really have to be a rocket scientist, to figure out, they’ll have problems taking care of their home, much less the mortgage!!! show me one socialist country, and i’ll show you everyone equal…ly poor!!!

  11. James Glasscock3 years ago

    Since the days of Reconstruction, the Democratic Party has enslaved the low income and under educated people with promises of something free, if they will give them their vote. Now, Obama and his minions have borrowed a page from earlier days and are bent on reducing the middle class to that of the low income people, all in the name of equality. Equality and Political Correctness. Then this country will be ruled by those Intelligentsia who think they are ordained by some mythical power to rule.

    I will make this proposition. The position a person occupies today is the result of past decisions made by that person. Where they will be in the future is dependent on decisions made from this day forward.

  12. Joanne Kearns3 years ago

    I find it remarkable that those who are unaffiliated with any religious group (which I assume includes agnostics and atheists) are more in tune with the so-called Christian Values of Charity and aid to the underprivileged, than the professed Christian Evangelicals and Protestants. It only goes to prove their Lip Service is just that and not and not actual Charity in the true meaning o f the word.

  13. Just a guy3 years ago

    This nation is built on equal opportunity, not equal outcomes. The reality of life is some people work harder and are smarter than otherrs. They usually do well. Others waste their time and foccus on unimportant things and pay for it.
    Minorities in this country have no one but themselves to blame. There have beem affirmative action programs in place for generations and many have not stepped up to take advantage of them.
    Don’t want to do school? You lose. Don’t want to do that little extra to get ahead? Someone else will. Your ethnicity or color doesn’t make you special. That’s life.

    1. Forrest Buckley3 years ago

      Affirmative action in place for generations, started in the 1970s, so not that many generations ago. Slavery, in place for for several hundred years. Do you not think that had an affect on those who have less education. Since education was denied most slaves and since most slave families were broken up by their owners and masters I suspect it will take GENERATIONS to make things right.

    2. slk3 years ago