“New Pew Research Analysis Finds No Clear ‘Pope Francis Effect’ Among U.S. Catholics” reads the headline of a press release from the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project. The release explains that though 79% of American Catholics rate the pope favorably, “the percentage of Americans who identify as Catholics has remained the same—22%—as it was during the corresponding seven-month period in 2012.” A summary of the study can be  found here .

Sounds bad, or at least disappointing, and some newspapers are going to pick up the story — and ignore that hedging “clear” — but it is a non-story. With 314 million Americans, the number identifying themselves as Catholic would have to rise by three million to raise the percentage one percent, and that’s three million among the portion of the population countable by surveys . Francis’ greatest fan does not expect that kind of response in just seven months.

And besides, suppose in that time just one million more people started identifying, or more likely re-identifying, themselves as Catholics. Wouldn’t that be possible evidence of a “Francis effect” though it would make no difference in the percentage? Surveys are too blunt an instrument to measure such things, but not too blunt for press releases.

Articles by David Mills

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