Americans Familiar With, Fond of Billy Graham

by Lydia Saad

One in six have heard him in person

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- About 200,000 people are expected to attend the Greater New York Billy Graham Crusade in New York City this weekend -- likely his last crusade -- but that number is dwarfed by the number of Americans who have witnessed Rev. Graham's preaching since he began his ministry more than 50 years ago.

According to a recent Gallup Poll, one in six adult Americans living today -- or 35 million people -- recall having heard Graham in person at some point in their lives. In addition, more than half of Americans, 52%, say they have heard Graham on the radio, while 85% have seen him on television.

Graham's longevity has enabled him to build large audiences, and it has also given him an important Gallup Poll distinction. Graham has appeared in the top 10 of Gallup's list of most admired men more times (48) than any other man since the list's inception in 1948. His nearest competition is primarily comprised of U.S. presidents and Pope John Paul II. Ronald Reagan is second to Graham with 31 appearances on the list.

One in Five Are Critical of Graham

The new poll, conducted June 16-19, finds that Graham is widely popular with Americans, but also has his share of detractors. Two-thirds of Americans (66%) view Graham favorably, while 20% view him unfavorably.

  • Graham's favorable-to-unfavorable ratio is highest among seniors, low-income Americans, those living in the South, Republicans, Protestants, and churchgoers more generally. Close to 75%, or more, of individuals in these categories view Graham favorably.
  • Graham is seen unfavorably most among non-Christians (a category that includes non-religious Americans along with those of non-Christian faiths), as well as with politically liberal Americans and those in households earning $100,000 a year or more. Non-Christians are evenly divided in their opinions about Graham: 39% view him favorably, 40% unfavorably. Although 37% of liberals and 28% of high income Americans view him unfavorably, majorities of these groups still view Graham more favorably than not.

Graham Most Popular With Protestants

As a non-denominational evangelical Christian who attracted millions to his weekly radio address and numerous television specials, Graham was once dubbed "Pope of Protestant America" by Time magazine. Indeed, Graham's reach is particularly deep within the American Protestant community. Nineteen percent of all Protestants have heard Graham in person, two-thirds have heard him on the radio, and nearly all have seen him on television.

Most Catholics and non-Christians have also seen Graham on television, but less than half have heard him on the radio. Eleven percent of Catholics and 5% of non-Christians have heard Graham in person.

Graham's popularity among different religious groups also varies. Whereas 81% of Protestants tell Gallup they have a favorable view of Graham, that figure is only 58% among Catholics and 39% among non-Christians.

Graham's popularity among Catholics and non-Christians is partially suppressed by the fact that larger proportions of these groups, compared with Protestants, have no opinion of him. However, his unfavorable ratings among Catholics and non-Christians are also higher than among Protestants.

A Generational Decline in Graham's Influence

Graham is now 86 years old, and his frail health has kept him out of the public eye for the last several years. This change in his visibility is evident in young adults' levels of exposure to him.

Overall, 14% of Americans have no opinion of Graham, but that figure is 45% among young adults.

Similarly, those between the ages of 18 to 29 are about half as likely as those ages 50 and older to have ever seen or heard Graham in a public appearance. Young adults are only slightly less likely than those ages 30 to 49 to have heard Graham in person or on the radio, but they are much less likely to have ever seen him on television.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,006 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 16-19, 2005. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

27. Next, we'd like to get your overall opinion of some people in the news. As I read each name, please say if you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of these people -- or if you have never heard of them. How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

A. Reverend Billy Graham

Favorable

Unfavorable

Never heard of

No opinion

2005 Jun 16-19

66%

20

6

8

2002 Sep 23-26

60%

22

7

11

28. Thinking now about the Reverend Billy Graham, have you ever -- [ITEMS READ IN ORDER]?




2005 Jun 16-19


Yes, have


No, have not


No opinion

A. Heard Billy Graham in person

16%

84

*

B. Heard him on the radio

52

47

1

C. Seen him on television

85

15

*

* Less than 0.5%

Trend for Comparison: Based on those who are familiar with Billy Graham

2005 Jun 16-19

1957 May 17-22

%

%

Heard Billy Graham in person

18

5

Heard him on the radio

59

30

Seen him on television

92

46

None of these

6

34

Percentages add to more than 100% due to multiple responses.

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