Work on human rights issues and in helping the poor received the highest approval ratings

 ST. LEO, FL – While Pope Francis continues to garner favorable opinion in the most recent Saint Leo University Polling Institute ( survey, his lowest marks come on the issues of handling sexual abuse by clergy, immigration/migration, and marriage and family issues.

The nonpartisan poll was conducted online among 1,000 American adults from September 10 through September 16. As a Catholic university, Saint Leo’s polling institute examines American’s opinions about the pope in each quarterly survey.

Saint Leo’s poll shows the pope’s current favorable opinion rating at 67.9 percent—down from 70.5 percent in the March 2017 poll, and up from the 62.6 percent in the November 2016 poll. Among Catholics nationally, Pope Francis’ popularity increased, with 87.9 percent having a favorable opinion of him, up from 82.6 percent in the March poll.

While the Saint Leo poll routinely asks respondents to rate the job Pope Francis is doing on four issues, the September poll added two issues—one regarding sexual abuse by clerics and one about marriage and family. The poll asked, “How would you rate the job Pope Francis is doing on:”

  • Advancing the cause of the poor;
  • Human rights;
  • Environmental issues;
  • Migration/immigration;
  • Handling cases of sexual abuse involving Catholic clergy;
  • Marriage and family issues.

Regarding his handling of sexual abuse cases, 46.4 percent of national respondents say they strongly or somewhat approve, while 30.8 percent say they somewhat and strongly disapprove of the pope’s actions. Of the 29.7 percent of respondents who say they are Catholic, 62.8 percent say they approve of the job Pope Francis is doing in regard to sexual abuse by clergy while 39.2 percent who identify as Christian say they approve. Of those who described themselves as “other” in the religion category, 30.7 say they approved the pope’s actions.

“I’m not surprised about the low approval ratings for Pope Francis’ job on cases of sexual abuse involving clergy,” said Dr. Marc Pugliese, Saint Leo University assistant professor of religion and theology. “Since the beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has been the target of criticism for his handling the clerical sexual abuse scandal. He has been criticized for supporting those who covered up sex crimes and for rehabilitating offenders who had been defrocked. Earlier this year, the pope spoke out against the criminal conviction and punishment of offenders, instead recommending penance. In July, a senior Vatican official whom Pope Francis himself appointed, Vatican secretary Cardinal Pell of Australia, was charged with sexual abuse. The question has been raised as to why the pope appointed Cardinal Pell in the first place, since he had already been accused of mishandling cases of sexual abuse in the Australian church where the scandal has been particularly acute.”

Pope Francis’ work on human rights issues and in helping the poor received the highest approval ratings in Saint Leo’s poll. Regarding human rights, 69.5 percent nationally say they strongly and somewhat approve while 11.7 percent somewhat and strongly disapprove of the pontiff’s performance. In advancing the cause of the poor, 68.8 percent say they approve while 10.7 say they disapprove—the approval rating was down from 70.8 percent in March 2017 and his disapproval rate increased from 9.4 percent in March regarding helping the poor.

The pope’s position on aiding the poor carries over into his view of environmental issues, Pugliese noted, as the poor are most greatly affected.

Support of Pope Francis regarding his stance on environmental issues remains high at 60.3 percent nationally (60 percent in the March poll) strongly and somewhat approving while 13.6 percent somewhat and strong disapprove (11.6 percent in the March poll).

“Pope Francis’ ongoing advocacy for the environment and high-profile participation in climate change discourse continues to be in the news and that probably contributed to the higher approval ratings for his job related to environmental issues,” said Pugliese, the religion and theology faculty member. “The fact that Pope Francis repeatedly links environmental issues to poverty and human rights probably contributed to the higher approval ratings for the job he is doing in all three of these areas.”

When the pope met with U.S. President Donald Trump in May, he urged the president not to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord. Pope Francis presented Trump with a copy of his 2015 encyclical, Laudato si’, which linked not only global warming, but also poverty to environmental degradation, Pugliese added.

Regarding the pope’s handling of immigration/migration issues, support slipped slightly from 54.4 percent in March to 53.8 percent in the September poll. The most recent poll shows 19.7 percent disapprove of his work on immigration, a slight decrease from 21.1 disagreeing in March.

“The pope’s pro-immigration stance is well-known,” Pugliese said, and “the rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals [DACA] policy at the beginning of September may have affected poll responses on how well Pope Francis is doing on immigration issues.”

The pontiff and the president did discuss immigration when they met in May, however DACA’s being rescinded could be construed as a failure on the part of the pope to convince the president of his pro-immigration position. “While returning from his recent visit to Colombia on September 11—which was during the administration of the poll—the pope did criticize the rolling back of DACA, saying that President Trump may not be pro-life for rescinding DACA,” Pugliese said.

Pope Francis fared better in the Saint Leo poll regarding his work on marriage and family issues with 55.7 percent of national respondents saying they strongly and somewhat approve while 20.5 percent say they somewhat and strongly disapprove.

The pope’s apostolic 2016 exhortation Amoris Laetitia contained several statements concerning divorce, remarriage, communion, and sexual morality. Some have interpreted the pope as advocating for allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the Eucharist. Some interpretations say he is open to Catholics using artificial birth control for disease prevention while others have said that the Pope has clearly condemned artificial contraception. Pope Francis has not responded to request to further clarify his position, Pugliese noted.

Media contacts:
Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 588-7118 or (813) 610-8416 (cell/text).

Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 588-8237 or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).     


More About Our Research
METHODOLOGY: The poll sampled opinions of 1,000 approximately proportional to state population contribution nationwide. The survey was conducted September 10-16, 2017. All surveys were conducted using an online survey instrument. The poll has a +/- 3.0 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level on a composite basis.

In Florida, 500 distinct respondents approximately proportional to state population contribution were surveyed also from September 10-16, 2017.The results have a margin for error of +/-4.5% at a 95% 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 allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed that is 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.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics, can be found here: You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.

About Saint Leo University
Saint Leo University ( is a modern Catholic teaching university that is firmly grounded in the liberal arts tradition and the timeless Benedictine wisdom that seeks balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit. The Saint Leo University of today is a private, nonprofit institution that creates hospitable learning communities wherever students want to be or need to be, whether that is a campus classroom, a web-based environment, an employer’s worksite, a military base, or an office park. Saint Leo welcomes people of all faiths and of no religious affiliation, and encourages learners of all generations. The university is committed to providing educational opportunities to the nation’s armed forces, veterans, and their families. Saint Leo is regionally accredited to award degrees ranging from the associate to the doctorate, and the faculty and staff guide all students to develop their capacities for critical thinking, moral reflection, and lifelong learning and leadership.

The university remains the faithful steward of the beautiful lakeside University Campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, where its founding monks created the first Catholic college in the state in 1889. Serving more than 13,000 students, Saint Leo has expanded to downtown Tampa, to other sites in Florida and beyond, and maintains a physical presence in seven states. The university provides highly respected online learning programs to students nationally and internationally. More than 90,000 alumni reside in all 50 states, in Washington, DC, in three U.S. territories, and in 76 countries.