Polls show faith helps Americans get through the coronavirus crisis

Staff Sgt. Anthony Bean, 21st Space Wing chaplain assistant, takes time during his day to pray in the sanctuary of the Base Chapel at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Aug. 8, 2016. Bean had multiple brain surgeries which ultimately strengthened his mission toward serving Airmen and the unseen troubles they may face. It has been six months since Bean had a seizure. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Two separate polls show that Americans are relying more on their faith to help persevere through the coronavirus pandemic.

The Pew Research Center, in a survey released April 30, showed that nearly one-fourth of all Americans say their faith has grown stronger during the pandemic, while only 2 percent said it had grown weaker.

Catholics, according to Pew, are very much in line with the overall survey results. Among Catholic respondents, 27 percent said their faith had grown stronger with 2 percent saying it had gotten weaker. In addition, 63 percent said their faith had not changed much at all, and another 7 percent said the question was not applicable because “I am not a religious person and this hasn’t changed.”

A poll by Fordham University released April 28 showed that Americans are being helped by their religious or spiritual faith during the pandemic, and the more often they go to church, the more they feel it has helped.

For those who go to church regularly, 68 percent said they have been “helped a lot,” and another 22 percent said they have been “helped somewhat.” For those who say they go the church frequently, 41 percent said they were helped a lot, with 45 percent reporting they had been helped somewhat. Even a majority of those who say they rarely go to church said faith has helped – 23 percent a lot and 32 percent somewhat.

Among all respondents, 35 percent said they have been helped a lot and 29 percent said they had been helped somewhat, while 34 percent said they had not been helped.

There may be a touch of irony in the polls’ results as significant percentages of Americans are reporting their faith has helped get them through a tough time yet they are unable to attend worship services. The Fordham poll showed 38 percent of Americans are attending less frequently, while 56 percent report no change. Just over a quarter are watching services more online or on television now than before the outbreak.

Regular churchgoers reported the largest attendance drop-off, with 67 percent saying they are attending much less often, 4 percent attending somewhat less often and 19 percent reporting no change. To compensate, 55 percent said they are watching online or televised services more than usual.

In the Fordham poll, 62 percent of Catholics said they had been helped at least somewhat by their faith. By comparison, 95 percent of evangelicals reported they had been helped at least somewhat, and just over three-fourths of mainline Protestants reported the same.

Pew’s numbers found that African Americans reported the biggest increase in faith at 41 percent, compared to 40 percent for Hispanics and 20 percent for whites. Older Americans likewise found their faith increasing, as nearly 30 percent of all Americans ages 50-up reported increased faith. Women’s numbers were nearly twice as big as men’s, 30 percent compared to 18 percent.

Monika McDermott, Fordham professor of political science, told Catholic News Service that one key finding was in asking who has been guiding respondents personally through the crisis.

“Public health officials got the highest rating on that, which is not surprising,” McDermott said. “We also found that state governors were fairly important,” but “not the federal government, and we found that enlightening.”

McDermott added, “We found people are social distancing. We asked about their daily habits. They are avoiding large places so they could be avoiding people who come within six feet.”

But one key finding, she noted, was that the “emotional and economic burden is really falling on African Americans from this virus.”

For questions such as Are you still required to go into the workplace, and are you exposed to the virus and do you know people who have died from it?, “The numbers are tremendously different if you’re a black American. And those are shocking numbers,” she said.

“There are two completely different communities that are experiencing this in completely different ways,” she said.

African American survey respondents were the only group that didn’t report at least 90 percent of their churches having closed; their figure was 79 percent. The overall church-closing number was 91 percent, including 95 percent of Catholic churches.

The Pew poll was conducted online with more than 10,000 respondents, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.5 percentage points. The Fordham poll, conducted by phone with 1,003 respondents, has a margin of error of 4.3 percentage points.