- Pope Francis’ 30% unfavorable rating among Americans is highest to date
- U.S. Catholics’ 17% unfavorable opinion is highest recorded for the group
- 42% favorability among conservative adults, 70% liberals, 66% moderates
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Pope Francis continues to be viewed positively in the U.S., although his 58% favorable rating from Americans is among the lower scores he has received since 2013, and his unfavorable rating is at a new high of 30%.
Among U.S. Catholics, the pontiff is held in even higher esteem -- but his 77% favorable rating among them is also below average for that group, and his 17% unfavorable rating is a new high.
The latest reading of Francis, from a Dec. 1-20 poll, marks the eighth time Gallup has measured Americans’ views of him since he was chosen to succeed Pope Benedict XVI in 2013. The Vatican’s Dec. 18 announcement that Catholic priests are now allowed to bless same-sex couples is not significantly reflected in the latest poll’s findings.
Francis, the first Jesuit pontiff and the first from South America, was elected after Benedict resigned in February 2013. Toward the beginning of his papacy, in April 2013, 58% of Americans overall and 80% of U.S. Catholics viewed Francis favorably. His popularity grew to his highest ratings the next year as he became better known, rising to 76% among U.S. adults and 89% among U.S. Catholics. Catholics’ lowest rating of Francis, a still robust 71%, came in July 2015. Three months later, after a visit to the U.S., it rebounded to 87%.
His lowest rating among the American public, 53%, was recorded in September 2018 after an investigation by the Pennsylvania state attorney general revealed widespread allegations of sexual abuse by priests in that state. U.S. Catholics’ favorable rating of the pope was not shaken in 2018 and has remained near 80% since then.
Conservatives View Francis Least Favorably
Francis is generally considered to be much more socially liberal than his immediate predecessor, Benedict, and has drawn criticism from some conservative thought leaders. Liberal Americans have applauded the Holy See under Pope Francis for its positions on the environment, unchecked capitalism, helping the poor, and allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments. At the same time, some conservative adults in the U.S. have denounced the Holy See for its positions on these issues, as well as its perceived departure from traditional Catholic teachings.
While conservatives generally agree with the pope’s stance against abortion, Francis has criticized U.S. bishops and others for politicizing the issue -- for example, in efforts to deny communion to Catholic politicians who are openly pro-choice on the issue. While solid majorities of self-described liberal (70%) and moderate (66%) Americans view the pontiff favorably, only 42% of conservatives do. Liberal and moderate Americans’ current views of Francis are on par with the previous reading, but conservatives’ rating is 13 percentage points lower than in 2019.
In November, Francis dismissed a conservative U.S. bishop in Texas who vocally criticized his leadership and commitment to traditional Catholic values on such issues as same-sex marriage, the role of women in the church and the Latin Mass, further disaffecting highly conservative Catholics.
Francis Rated Better Than Benedict, Worse Than John Paul II
Francis remains more popular than Benedict, who was viewed favorably by 40% of Americans and unfavorably by 35% in Gallup’s last reading of him in 2010. Benedict’s papacy lasted less than eight years and was tainted by accusations that he mishandled the child sex abuse scandal. Conservatives’ 46% favorable rating of Benedict in 2010 is only slightly higher than Francis’ today. Although Benedict received higher ratings before 2010, his ratings were never as positive as Francis’ highest.
In contrast, Pope John Paul II, who preceded Benedict and served for almost 27 years, was consistently viewed favorably by more than 60% of Americans in the 1990s and 2000s. His highest rating was 86% in 1998.
Nearly 11 years into his papacy, Pope Francis is enjoying solid favorable ratings from Americans, including those who are Catholic. Yet, his ratings among conservatives in the U.S. remain weak.
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