Skip to main content

Cross-pressuring conservative Catholics? Effects of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the U.S. public opinion on climate change


In an encyclical released in June of 2015, Pope Francis cast the need to address climate change as a moral imperative. Using nationally-representative surveys with supplemental samples of Catholics, we investigate changes in the U.S. public’s post-encyclical attitudes about climate change and the Catholic pontiff. People who were aware of the encyclical held more polarized attitudes toward climate change than those who were unaware of it. Whereas encyclical-aware liberals expressed heightened concerns about climate change, encyclical-aware conservatives expressed lower levels. Cross-pressured by the inconsistency between the pontiff’s views and those of their political allies, conservative Catholics devalued the Pope’s credibility on climate change. These findings have important implications for communication about climate change in polarized opinion environments.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3


  1. Oversampling is a survey technique that allows researchers to obtain more reliable estimates for subgroups in the population by adding to a national random sample an additional random selection of more individuals from a group of special interest (in this case Catholics) than would typically occur if those in that group had the same chance of being chosen as those in the population at large (Groves 1989).

  2. Cronbach’s alpha is a measure of internal consistency, that is, how closely related a set of items are as a group. It is considered to be a measure of scale reliability. Generally speaking, a value of 0.7-0.8 is an acceptable value for Cronbach’s alpha, indicating reasonable reliability of the measure.

  3. The news media variables were not excessively correlated with political leaning, all Pearson r < .4, and hence presented no multicollinearity problem for the analysis.


Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Nan Li.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.


(DOCX 26 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Li, N., Hilgard, J., Scheufele, D.A. et al. Cross-pressuring conservative Catholics? Effects of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the U.S. public opinion on climate change. Climatic Change 139, 367–380 (2016).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Climate Change
  • Anthropogenic Climate Change
  • Random Digit Dial
  • Climate Change Concern
  • Catholic Bishop