NEW YORK — A new study reveals that while American Catholics still overwhelmingly view Pope Francis favorably, he enjoys more support from Catholic Democrats than he does Catholic Republicans.
The new data was released on Friday by the Pew Research Center and found that seven years after his election as pope, six out of ten U.S. adults (or 59 percent) view Francis favorably, with three-quarters of American Catholics (or 77 percent) sharing a positive opinion of the pope.
The latest findings from Pew show Francis faring slightly better than when they last conducted polling on him among Americans in September 2018 when his numbers dipped to an all-time low of 51 percent among U.S. adults and 72 percent among American Catholics.
Those numbers came on the heels of the Pennsylvania grand jury report chronicling decades of clergy abuse and the fallout surrounding now ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, one of the most prominent U.S. Catholic prelates of the last quarter century who was later found guilty by the Vatican of abusing minors and engaging in misconduct with seminarians, and later removed from the priesthood by Francis.
The new numbers from Pew correspond similarly with the most recent polling from Saint Leo University Polling Institute whose survey from last month found a 74.6 percent approval among U.S. Catholics toward Francis and a 52.2 favorability rating among the general population.
While the latest polling suggests that Francis enjoys the same level of favorability he did after he was first elected in March 2013, it shows a slight decline from periods in 2015 and 2017 when 70 percent of U.S. adults said they held a “very” or “mostly” favorable view of the pope.
Incidentally, the data does not show a sizeable difference among regular mass goers and those who attend less frequently, with 79 percent of weekly mass goers saying they have a favorable view of the pope compared to 76 percent of those who go less regularly.
Yet while Francis’s overall approval remains high among Catholics, the first pope from the southern hemisphere receives significantly higher approval among Catholic Democrats than Republicans.
According to the latest data, 87 percent of self-identified Catholic Democrats, or those that lean Democratic, viewed Francis favorably, compared to 71 percent among Catholic Republicans and Republican leaning Catholics.
Incidentally, the pope fares better among self-identified “nones” — those who identify as atheist, agnostic, or with no particular religious affiliation — than he does with white evangelical Protestants.
While 59 percent of “nones” say they have either a “mostly” or “very” favorable view of Francis — compared to 39 percent when he was first elected — only 43 percent of white evangelicals said they shared that perspective. Among white Protestants who do not identify as “born-again” or evangelical, the pope received a 62 percent approval, just slightly above the 59 percent of the general U.S. adult population.
The latest findings from Pew were conducted by a telephone survey of 1,504 U.S. adults in both English and Spanish during January.
Follow Christopher White on Twitter: @cwwhite212