President Reagan owes a great deal of his political success to support from normally Democratic Catholics. But while four Catholics in 10 believe Reagan will go down in history as an above average president, six in 10 now say the next president should go in a different direction.
The president's strongest support in a recent poll continues to come from evangelicals -- those who describe themselves as born-again Christians -- but even this group prefers a new direction from the next president.
These findings are based on 1,607 interviews conducted in July and August. The poll figures are subject to errors of 3 percentage points in either direction.
Religious groups showed significant differences when asked how history would assess the Reagan presidency. White evangelicals were the most enthusiastic, with 46 percent saying Reagan would be viewed as an outstanding or above average president and only 19 percent saying he would be seen as below average or poor. The rest said he would be remembered as average, or had no opinion. (In the following references, the top two rankings have been combined into an "above average" category and the bottom two into "below average.")
When nonwhite evangelicals are included, the balance is somewhat less favorable, with 39 percent of all evangelicals saying Reagan would be viewed as above average and 25 percent saying he would be seen as below average.
Forty-two percent of Catholics said Reagan would be viewed as above average, while 23 percent said he would be seen as below average.
Among nonevangelicals, 37 percent said Reagan would be viewed as above average and 27 percent said he would be seen as below average.
Significantly, normally Republican Mainline Protestants -- here defined to include Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians and Episcopalians -- also were fairly cool to Reagan, with 37 percent saying he would be remembered as above average and 27 percent saying he would be remembered as below average.
Asked if the next president should continue in the same direction as Reagan, Catholics and non-evangelicals gave identical responses: Sixty percent said he should go in a different direction, while only 33 percent said he should go in the same direction as Reagan. Protestants preferred that the next president go in a different direction by a 53 to 40 percent ratio.
Among all evangelicals, 53 percent preferred a new direction, while 43 percent wanted the next president to go in the same direction as Reagan.
A majority of evangelicals (55 percent) approved of his job performance, while 36 percent disapproved. Protestants gave Reagan a 53-to-38-percent favorable rating.
Nonevangelicals, on the other hand, were evenly divided, with 45 percent approving and 46 percent disapproving, while Catholics disapproved of his job performance by 50 to 42 percent.
Disapproval was high across the board on Reagan's handling of the budget deficit -- by 71 to 21 percent among Catholics, 68 to 26 percent among evangelicals, 68 to 24 percent among nonevangelicals and 67 to 25 percent among Protestants.
Evangelicals were most supportive of the president's overall handling of foreign policy, but even they disapproved by 48 to 42 percent; Protestants disapproved by 50 to 39 percent, nonevangelicals by 62 to 29 percent, and Catholics by 69 to 24 percent.