Contrary to widespread opinion that anti-Catholic bias exists disproportionately among evangelical or born-again Protestants, the survey found that only 29 percent of that group--compared to 30 percent of Protestants generally--described their opinion of Catholicism as "unfavorable."
Despite recent flaps over alleged insensitivity to Catholic feelings by House and other Republican leaders, the poll found that Democrats and independents are slightly more likely than Republicans to view Catholicism negatively.
The poll results, released March 27, were based on telephone interviews with a national sample of 1,024 adults in mid-March.
Among various religion questions, respondents were asked whether their opinion of the Catholic religion was favorable or unfavorable and whether their opinion of Christian fundamentalist religions was favorable or unfavorable.
"An examination of the data suggests that one of the biggest predictors of negative attitudes toward Catholics is an overall lack of personal religious faith or practice, rather than intense religious belief in a different religion," the Gallup News Service said in a release on the poll.
"Having an unfavorable attitude toward the Catholic religion may be more a part of a negative attitude toward any religion, rather than a specific or targeted negative attitude toward the Catholic faith," it added.
It cited as evidence:
- Among those who say religion is not important in their own life, 44 percent said their opinion of Catholicism was unfavorable.
- Among those who are not members of a church or synagogue, 39 percent viewed Catholicism unfavorably.
- Of those who never attend church, 54 percent viewed Catholicism unfavorably.
- Of those who regarded religion as old-fashioned or out-of-date, 45 percent viewed Catholicism unfavorably.
- Among respondents who identified themselves as Catholic, 12 percent said their opinion of Catholicism was unfavorable.
The poll found that negative attitudes toward Christian fundamentalism were more widespread than those toward Catholicism. Overall, only 48 percent of Americans expressed a favorable opinion of the fundamentalist religions, and 35 percent said their opinion was unfavorable. The remainder did not express an opinion.
In comparing political affiliation and attitudes toward Catholicism, the Gallup News Service noted that in recent weeks Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert was criticized for passing over a Catholic priest as candidate for House chaplain and Republican presidential contender George W. Bush came under fire for visiting Bob Jones University without publicly denouncing its anti-Catholic positions.
Despite the popular impression those contretemps might leave, the poll found that only 23 percent of Republicans have an unfavorable opinion of Catholicism, compared with 27 percent of Democrats and 31 percent of independents.
Gallup also reported that according to the poll, 44 percent of Americans are "unchurched"--defined as either not having church membership or not having attended any regular religious services in the past six months.
It found that 45 percent of whites but only 32 percent of blacks were unchurched. Half of men but only 39 percent of women were unchurched.
It said the greatest divide appeared among "ideological subcultures" of the nation. "Whereas 55 percent of liberals in this country dissociate themselves from a church, only 35 percent of conservatives fall into the same category," it said.
Forty percent of those with college education were unchurched, compared with 49 percent of those with high school or less.
Gallup said the percentage of unchurched Americans has changed only slightly since 1978, when 41 percent were unchurched.END--------------------------------------------------------------------------------