Americans can’t get enough of Pope Francis. A new Pew Research Center survey shows that the Argentinian pontiff keeps rolling in approval ratings, with 70 percent of Americans saying that they have a “very” or “mostly” favorable view of the pope.
In the past, Pope Francis has expressed a high degree of hesitation when it came to the United States, and his words on Donald Trump’s ideas concerning walls let slip, albeit accidentally, a cautious and perhaps mistrusting view of his presidency.
Yet a papal visit to the United States in September 2015, the pope’s insistence on wearing untailored clothes and driving an unassuming car, and out-of-the-blue phone calls may be among the reasons that Pope Francis is wildly popular in the U.S.
When Francis became pope in March of 2013, 57 percent of Americans had a favorable view of him, 14 percent had an unfavorable view and 29 percent could not give him a rating, according to the Pew survey.
The pope’s gains in popularity this year were probably picked from the pool of those who did not have a clear opinion on him: The percentage of respondents who could not rate the pope dropped to 11 percent.
Meanwhile, seven in ten Americans view Pope Francis favorably today.
The Amoris Laetitia controversy was not enough to discourage Catholics from having a positive view of the pontiff. According to the survey, 87 percent of Catholics in the U.S. have a favorable opinion of Pope Francis.
While white evangelical Protestants have maintained a roughly similar view regarding Francis since the beginning of his papacy, the most surprising change has happened among those who describe their religious affiliation as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.”
In March 2013 only 39 percent of this group had a favorable view of Pope Francis. Today that number has jumped to a shocking 71 percent.
Interestingly, the atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particulars” were among those who could not rate the pontiff in March of 2013.
Pope Francis has been able to stir interest –and a positive one at that- among the most unlikely audience. The pope’s perceived lenience on gay marriage and Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried as well as his outspokenness concerning the issues of poverty and immigration might be the main causes for this trend.
Francis’s pope-next-door attitude may be the secret to his unyielding grasp on U.S. public opinion and may explain why Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had such comparably low appeal.
Though Pope Francis’s popularity among U.S. Catholics is similar to that of John Paul II in the 80s and 90s, he leaves Benedict XVI –predictably – in the dust.
According to the Pew survey, Benedict’s popularity among U.S. Catholics averaged 74 percent during his papacy, compared to Pope Francis’s 84 percent and John Paul II’s 93 percent.
Benedict XVI had favorability ratings from Americans as a whole between 49 percent and 61 percent.
The polls of history have yet to be written, and they may become more generous toward the Pope emeritus. Meanwhile it will be interesting to see how Pope Francis’s appeal to the masses will play out in Trump’s America.