It’s sometimes said that polls simply confirm what everybody already knows, and a new poll from the Pew Research Center seems to prove the point: Pope Francis remains wildly popular with Americans. And the “Who am I to judge?” pope finds his popularity with liberals growing and some papal unease among conservatives.
He didn’t get a bump from his US visit; his favorability rating among all US adults after his tour of Washington, New York, and Philadelphia remains about where it’s been for the past several months, at 68 percent. (It was 70 percent in February.)
But the visit — which included cerebral addresses to Congress and the United Nations as well as an obviously amused pontiff kissing a baby girl dressed as a pope — did help the Catholic Church, particularly among American liberals: Nearly 4 in 10 liberals say they have a more positive view of the Church because of Francis, dwarfing the 4 percent who say they have a more negative view.
Among American Catholics, the pope’s popularity has drifted downward, with 81 percent give him high marks, down from February when 90 percent had fallen for Francis.
The study, conducted just days after Francis departed Philadelphia for Rome, finds slightly fewer Catholics who attend Mass weekly hold a favorable view of the pontiff, though Pew said the limited sample size should caution against reading too much into the 11-point drop: 95 percent in February to 84 percent.
During his speech to Congress, Francis challenged both the left and the right, but the pope, who is perceived to be more liberal than his predecessors, remains more popular with Democrats and Independents than with Republicans.
In February, 73 percent of Democrats had a “very or mostly favorable view” of Francis. After his visit, during which the pope repeatedly emphasized his concern for immigrants and the environment, that number rose to 80 percent.
And the visit only helped his popularity with the liberal crowd: “Fully 35 percent of Democrats say they have a more positive view of the Catholic Church because of Pope Francis, while just 2 percent say Francis has pushed their view of the church in the other direction – a ratio of roughly 17-to-1,” the poll found.
While Francis offered implicit remarks against abortion and same-sex marriage, the pope’s popularity with Republicans dropped slightly after his visit, from 73 percent in February to 67 percent today.
Numbers are well and good, but what are the people saying about “the people’s pope,” as he’s been dubbed by journalists?
The top three positive words used to describe Francis in this survey were “good,” “humble,” and “kind.”
The top seven “neutral” words to characterize the pope according to Pew include “liberal,” “progressive,” and “socialist.” (For what it’s worth, Francis has repeatedly denied charges from the right wing that he is a socialist or a Marxist, claiming that he simply follows Catholic teaching.)
Though Francis has become something of a media darling, as evidenced by his face appearing on countless magazine covers in the weeks leading up to his visit, his more reserved predecessor also received a modest post-visit bounce after his journey to the United States in 2008.
“Francis is, however, viewed ‘very favorably’ by more Catholics than Pope Benedict was even immediately following his 2008 US trip,” the survey reports.
More than 60 percent of Catholics report a “very favorable” view of Francis following his visit, whereas only 49 percent said the same of Pope Benedict.
Did the media’s big roll out — a cable company in New York launched a 24-hour pope channel and Brian Williams made his return to TV news to coincide with the visit — pay off?
Half of all Americans said they followed the visit closely, while 62 percent of Catholics reported the same.
The data, Pew said, is based on calls to 1,000 adults between Oct. 1-4 living in the continental United States.