When he comes to the United States, Pope Francis will visit three major metros, but he’ll greet parishioners with very different views on some social issues.
Catholics in the Washington D.C area are less supportive of legal abortion access than are those in New York and Philadelphia — the three cities where Pope Francis will visit later this month — according to a new analysis from the Public Religion Research Institute.
The analysis, which looks at how Catholics in each of the three metro areas feel about abortion, immigration and gay marriage, provides a glimpse into the audience that will greet the pope’s widely-anticipated remarks on several pressing issues facing the faithful today.
Although the sample sizes in the analysis are somewhat small, they are still a useful glimpse into some likely differences between the cities. The most significant difference in the analysis is on the issue of abortion: 44 percent of Catholics in D.C. believe that abortion should be legal in most cases. In other cities, however, majorities — 58 percent in New York and 55 percent in Philadelphia — believe abortion should generally be legal. The analysis found a similar breakdown on the question of whether at least some local health professionals should provide abortions.
But the D.C. Catholic community’s more conservative stance on abortion access doesn’t necessarily indicate that Washington D.C.’s Catholics are generally more conservative. When asked whether same-sex marriage should be legal, about six in 10 Catholics in all three cities said yes.
In all three cities, the analysis found, majorities of Catholics said they supported a path to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally. Fifty-nine percent in Washington D.C.; 60 percent in New York; and 65 percent in Philadelphia supported a path to citizenship. Pope Francis will address immigration during a key speech at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
The breakdown gets a little more complicated when Catholics in each city were asked to say whether they believe immigrants, in general, strengthen the country. More than six in 10 Catholics in New York and D.C. said immigrants “strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents,” compared with just 45 percent of Catholics in Philadelphia. An equal share of Philadelphia Catholics, 45 percent, said immigrants are mainly a burden on the United States.
PRRI guesses that Philadelphia’s answers could reflect the city’s distinct Catholic demographics:
The more critical view of immigrants expressed by Philadelphia Catholics may partly be a reflection of the distinct ethnic profile of Catholics in this metro area. Philadelphia Catholics are overwhelmingly (82 percent) white, with just 12 percent identifying as Hispanic and three percent as black.
New York and Philadelphia have Catholic populations that make up 36 and 33 percent of the city, respectively, while 19 percent of D.C.’s population is Catholic, according to an earlier PRRI analysis. However, the Catholic populations of D.C. and New York are more diverse, with the Catholic population in New York coming pretty close to that of the country as a whole.
Both survey results are based on the American Values Atlas, a large-scale national survey by PRRI throughout 2014 with a national sample of over 50,000 adults reached on landline and cellphones.
A subset of results was reported for geographic regions around major cities (Metropolitan Statistical Areas) – for New York results are based on 933 interviews with Catholics and have a margin of sampling error of 3.7 percentage points. The error margin for the social issues analysis is 7.1 points among the sample of 245 respondents living near Philadelphia, and 9.8 points for respondents living near D.C.
Scott Clement contributed to this report.
Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the percentage of Catholics who believe abortion should be legal in most cases. It has since been corrected.
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