Just six months until “wheels down” in the United States, Pope Francis is more popular than ever here, with favorability numbers eclipsing his predecessor, and nearly matching even the wildly beloved Pope John Paul II during the height of his popularity.
Nine in 10 US Catholics now say they have a favorable view of Francis, including nearly 6 in 10 who have a “very favorable” view, according to a report released Thursday from the Pew Research Center to mark the second anniversary of the pope’s election.
Although he has sparked intense debate inside the Catholic Church — about outreach to gays and lesbians, Communion for divorced Catholics, different kinds of liturgy, and even the role of the papacy itself — Francis’ numbers with the public have shot up, even among non-Catholics.
Among the findings:
- Seven in 10 adults see the pope favorably, up 13 points from his election two years ago
- Those who have an unfavorable view of the pope hovers at 15 percent, climbing just a few points from a low of 11 percent last year
- And those with no opinion on the pope has dropped from a high of 30 percent to 15 percent
The survey, conducted Feb. 18-22 with 1,504 adults, found that 60 percent of Protestants and nearly 70 percent of those who are religiously unaffiliated have favorable impressions of the pope.
Those numbers may reflect the pope’s high-profile meetings with Protestant leaders at the Vatican, including visits with Evangelical Christians and Mormons from the United States, as well as positive comments directed to atheists and non-believers.
The pope’s popularity even transcends America’s sharp political divide: 72 percent of Republicans and 70 percent of Democrats have a favorable view. Slightly more liberals — 74 percent — have a favorable view of Francis than conservatives, at 67 percent.
This will undoubtedly be welcome news for Francis as he prepares for a September address to a joint session of Congress, a first for a pope. He is expected to challenge both parties, addressing topics important to his pontificate such as immigration and economic justice.
Of those younger than 30, 64 percent have favorable views, while 77 percent of those older than 65 like the pope.
A staggering 95 percent of Catholics who attend Mass regularly also are fond of Francis. His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, maxed out at 88 percent and dropped as low as 77 percent among church-going Catholics.
The report says the pope’s broad appeal is remarkable.
“Francis is widely admired by Catholic men and women, by both white and Hispanic Catholics, by Catholic Republicans and Democrats, and by Catholic adults under the age of 50 as well as older Catholics,” the survey report says.
Although John Paul II’s overall favorable ratings peaked a bit higher — 93 percent to Francis’ 90 percent — the current pope enjoys higher “very favorable” ratings in the United States than his two immediate predecessors.
In May 1990, 53 percent of American Catholics said their view of John Paul II was “very favorable,” his highest numbers. In this new poll, 57 percent of American Catholics give the same rating to Francis. Benedict’s “very favorable” rating among US Catholics maxed out at 49 percent in April 2008, around the time he visited Washington, DC and New York.
Source: Pew Research Center survey, Feb. 18-22, 2015. The darker blue represents the percentage of survey respondents who said their view of the pope is “Very favorable” and the lighter blue, “Mostly favorable.”