When Pope Francis makes his first visit to the United States as pontiff next year, he can expect a warm reception. According to the latest national survey from the Saint Leo University Polling Institute, Pope Francis enjoys an approval rating of 88 percent among U.S. Catholics.

The pope’s overall approval rating stands at 67 percent, with just 13 percent viewing him unfavorably. Non-Catholics hold overwhelmingly favorable views toward the Pope, too, giving him a 61 percent approval rating.

“People increasingly seem to be coming to conclusions about Pope Francis, both positively and negatively,” said Michael Anthony Novak, assistant professor of theology and religion at Saint Leo University. “There seems to be enough time for initial impressions of him to yield to prolonged experience of this Pope based on his stance on several issues. ”The shifts in his numbers seem to me to be signs of people getting to know Francis, whether they approve or disapprove of him.”

The pope plans to visit Philadelphia in September 2015, in his first visit to the United States since becoming pope.

Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Pope Francis? Would you say your opinion of Pope Francis is…

All respondents  

Catholics

N=229

Non-Catholics

N=778

34 %

Strongly favorable

63

25

33 %

Somewhat favorable

25

36

7 %

Somewhat unfavorable

4

8

6 %

Not at all favorable

1

7

20 %

Don’t know  unsure

7

24

 

There appears to be some consistent movement in the polling data. Pope Francis’s popularity with self-identified Catholics continues to grow. In four previous quarterly polls the pope’s favorability rating was 83 percent (December 2013), 85 percent in March and October 2014, and 88 percent in the current survey. Likewise, for non-Catholics: 55 percent, 63 percent, 54 percent, and 61 percent.

Rating (%)

Dec. 2013 vs.

Dec. 2014

Catholic

Dec. 2013

Catholic

Dec. 2014

Non-Catholic

Dec.

2013

Non-Catholic

Dec.

2014

Strongly favorable    48    63     18     25
Somewhat favorable    35    25     37     36
Somewhat unfavorable     2     4      7     8
Not at all favorable     0     1      5     7
Haven’t heard     1 -       -      5 -       -
Don’t know/uncertain    13     7     29     24

 

“Both among Catholics and non-Catholics there is a movement from having ‘somewhat favorable’ opinions of Pope Francis, to ‘strongly favorable,’ ones” remarked Dr. Novak.

There is also a steady increase in unfavorable numbers for the pope and a decline in the numbers of those who are unsure in their attitudes about him. According to the data, Catholics who have a negative opinion of Pope Francis has grown from 2 to 5 percent and from 11 to 15 percent for non-Catholics over the course of the year.

“Pope Francis’ overall approval numbers have been fairly consistent but there is movement from ‘cautious’ to ‘strong’ approval. Most striking is the shift in the Catholic statistics,” commented Dr. Novak. While the pope’s disapproval numbers have doubled in a year (from 2 to 5 percent), his approval rating among Catholics has grown (from 83 to 88 percent). But within that approval rating, his movement over the year among those with “strongly favorable” impressions, has jumped from 48 to 63 percent, while Catholics with only “somewhat favorable” feelings of the pope has dropped from 35 to 25 percent.

Among non-Catholics, Pope Francis’ approval has also shown an increase among those having ‘strongly favorable’ attitudes toward him. While the number of individuals with “somewhat favorable” opinions of him remains relatively steady with December’s 36 percent, those non-Catholics reporting “strongly favorable” impressions have increased from 18 to 25 percent over the year-long period.

During the same period, half as many Catholics felt uncertain about or unfamiliar with, Pope Francis in December 2013 versus December 2014, a 14 to 7 percent drop. Those non-Catholics who were uncertain or unfamiliar with the pope fell from a third to a quarter– from 34 to 25 percent.

The full Saint Leo University Polling Institute national survey results on politics, charitable giving, technology, and attitudes about college and professional sports can be found here: http://polls.saintleo.edu. You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.

About the Saint Leo University Polling Institute/Methodology

This Saint Leo University poll of 1,016 adults nationwide was conducted between November 25, and December 6, 2014. The margin of error) is approximately 3 percent +/- with a 95 percent confidence level. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. The sample is drawn from large online panels, which allows for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantages of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive – usually $1 deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account – for their participation.

About Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University is a regionally accredited, liberal-arts-based institution known for an inclusive Catholic heritage, enduring values, and capacity for innovation. The school was chartered in 1889 by Catholic Benedictine monks in rural Pasco County, FL, making Saint Leo the first Catholic college in the state. Over its 125-year history, Saint Leo has provided access to education to people of all faiths, emphasizing the Benedictine philosophy of balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit.

Today the university welcomes learners from all generations and backgrounds, from civilian occupations and the armed forces, and from all 50 states and more than 60 nations. Saint Leo’s 16,000 undergraduate and graduate students may elect to study at the beautiful University Campus in Florida, at more than 40 teaching locations in seven states, or online from other locations. The university’s degree programs range from the associate to the doctorate. Throughout these rich offerings, Saint Leo develops principled leaders for a challenging world.

Media Contacts: Kim Payne, staff writer and media coordinator, at kim.payne@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-7233/(717) 798-1508 or Jo-Ann Johnston, academic communications manager, at jo-ann.johnston@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-8237/(352) 467-0843.