NEW YORK – A new survey conducted this past December has found that while most American adults still have a favorable view of Pope Francis, the percentage that hold an unfavorable opinion of the pontiff has risen to a new ten-year high.
The survey, conducted Dec. 1-20 by the Gallup organization, found that 58 percent of American adults overall have a favorable opinion of Francis, the same as when he became pope in 2013. However, over the same period, the percentage of American adults who have an unfavorable opinion of Francis has risen from 10 percent to a new high of 30 percent.
The percentage of American adults who have not heard of, or hold no opinion of, the pontiff has also dropped from 31 percent in 2013 to 11 percent in the latest survey, the data shows.
The survey data shows a similar trend among American Catholics as among American adults generally, in the sense of a rising level of unfavorable opinion. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given a polarized political environment in both Church and state, Francis’s favorability amongst self-described liberal American Catholics has increased since 2013, while his favorability among conservative American Catholics has declined.
The survey found that 77 percent of American Catholics overall have a favorable view of Francis, compared to 80 percent in 2013. Meanwhile, 17 percent of American Catholics have an unfavorable view of Francis, up from five percent in 2013.
The percentage of American Catholics who have not heard of Francis, or have no opinion of him, fell to four percent from 14 percent in 2013.
As for what the survey found when breaking down American Catholics by their ideologies, 70 percent of liberal American Catholics have a favorable view of Francis, up from 54 percent in 2013. Meanwhile, 42 percent of conservative American Catholics have a favorable view of Francis in the latest survey, a decrease from 62 percent in 2013, the data shows.
As for moderate American Catholics, the change is less sharp. 66 percent of self-described moderate American Catholics have a favorable view of Francis in the latest survey, compared to 59 percent in 2013.
Based on the survey results, Francis is viewed more favorably than Pope Benedict XVI was during his papacy, but less favorably than Pope John Paul II.
In the last Gallup survey on Benedict in 2010, while he was still in office, he was viewed favorably by 40 percent of Americans and unfavorably by 35 percent of Americans. Strikingly, Benedict’s favorable rating among conservatives, 46 percent, was only slightly higher than Francis’s today, perhaps because the poll was taken amid scandals involving both clerical sexual abuse in Ireland and across Europe, as well as the rehabilitation of a Holocaust-denying traditionalist bishop.
“Although Benedict received higher ratings before 2010, his ratings were never as positive as Francis’ highest,” the survey states. “In contrast, Pope John Paul II, who preceded Benedict and served for almost 27 years, was consistently viewed favorably by more than 60 percent of Americans in the 1990s and 2000s.”
John Paul II’s highest rating was 86 percent in 1998, the survey states.
A spokesperson for Gallup told Crux that there is no significance to the timing of the latest survey – or the other seven conducted on Francis of the same nature – other than the organization was updating favorability ratings on public figures and decided to include him. In between the 2013 and 2023 surveys, the results hovered around the same percentages.
“[Francis’s] first rating was likely collected to measure his public image at the beginning of his papacy, but his following ratings were collected as part of Gallup’s periodic updates, which follow no particular calendar,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
Gallup notes in their December survey that the Vatican’s Dec. 18 announcement allowing priests to bless same-sex couples “is not significantly reflected in the findings.” The spokesperson said Gallup did not ask any follow-up questions to provide context as to why Francis is viewed favorably or unfavorably.
Follow John Lavenburg on X: @johnlavenburg