ST. LEO, FL – As his new book is released, a poll shows Pope Francis continues to have a strong favorable opinion rating among Americans, especially Catholics; however, his popularity has dipped. An online poll by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute (http://polls.saintleo.edu) was conducted nationally during Thanksgiving week between November 19 and November 24, 2017, among 1,000 adults, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points in either direction.
The poll asked those surveyed if their opinion of the pope was strongly favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, or not at all favorable. Overall favorability reflects the combined results of “strongly approve” and “somewhat approve” responses.
Francis’ favorability is 62.9 percent, according to the Saint Leo poll, which is down from 67.9 percent in September, and from 70.5 percent in March.
Among Catholics nationally, Pope Francis’ favorable rating is at 81.4 percent—down from 87.9 percent in September and 82.6 percent in March.
As a Catholic university, founded on Benedictine traditions, the Saint Leo University Polling Institute consistently polls on the public’s opinion of the pope.
Francis’ new book, Happiness in This Life: A Passionate Meditation on Earthly Existence, discusses core issues of his papacy—mercy, support for marginalized people, and diplomacy, according to publisher Random House. Some of those issues also are examined in the Saint Leo poll.
Pope Francis received strong approval ratings (strongly and somewhat approve) for the job he is doing on human rights (65.4 percent) and advancing the cause of the poor (65.6 percent). He earned more moderate ratings on his job performance for environmental issues (53 percent), marriage and family issues (51.4 percent), immigration issues (49.8 percent), and handling cases of sexual abuse involving Catholic clergy (40.6 percent).
Among Catholics, Pope Francis earned the highest approval rating for advancing the cause of the poor (77.1 percent) with his work on human rights garnering a favorable opinion of 76.4 percent. His ratings from Catholics on his job performance were higher than the national ratings for environmental issues (68.2 percent), marriage and family issues (67.8 percent), immigration issues (59.9 percent), and handling cases of sexual abuse involving Catholic clergy (53.1 percent).
The following table shows approval ratings from 2017 from Americans in general:
|How would you rate the job Pope Francis is doing on…||Strongly & Somewhat Approve % March 2017||Strongly & Somewhat Approve % September 2017||Somewhat & Strongly
Approve % November 2017
|Advancing the cause of the poor||70.8||68.8||65.6|
|Marriage and family issues||—||55.7||51.4|
|Migration / Immigration||54.4||53.8||49.8|
|Handling cases of sexual abuse involving Catholic clergy||—||43.8||40.6|
“There has been a pattern over the past couple of years in the poll results where the Pope Francis’ favorability rating has gone down about mid-fall, being the lowest in the November poll, and then started to rise again during the Advent and Christmas seasons, with higher favorability continuing through spring and the Lenten and Easter seasons,” said Dr. Marc Pugliese, assistant professor of religion and theology at Saint Leo University. “Hence, the fact that the pope’s overall favorability rating is down from 67.9 percent in September and down from 70.5 percent in March, now being essentially where it was at this time last year (62.9 percent in November 2017 and 62.6 percent in November 2016) could be a cyclical function of the calendar year instead of the result of any particular events or new items related to the Pope in the last three months.”
Pope Francis’ concerns with human rights and poverty in the United States frequently have been in the news. “The pope’s prayers and words of support for the victims of the Las Vegas shooting and their families received much press,” Pugliese said. “In October he offered prayers for the victims of the California wildfires. On November 2, he said Mass at an American military cemetery in Rome for those who died fighting in World War II, and a week later he denounced the violence and offered prayer for the victims of the shootings at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. All of this has received ample press, and so is probably in the forefront of people’s minds when they think of the pope.”
Support for Pope Francis is higher among Democrats and liberals, according to the Saint Leo poll, with the pope receiving a favorable rating of 76.3 percent in both cases. Among Republicans, he receives 58.9 percent, and among conservatives, 57.2 percent.
Pugliese said that the division is not surprising. “While this is not the case in other particular geographical regions around the world, the Catholic Church in the United States is ideologically diverse but generally divided along the national political party lines in America,” he said. “For example, there is a large constituency of U.S. Catholics who hold moral theological and social ethical positions that look very much like those of Democrats and a large constituency of U.S. Catholics who hold positions that look very much like those of Republicans. Both claim the moral high ground by appealing to specific aspects of what is not so cut-and-dry Church teaching.”
Pope Francis has stated his concerns about social justice issues, and many Americans believe the policies he advocates fall squarely in the “progressive/liberal” camp, Pugliese said.
“Conservative” Catholics tend to be more concerned with traditional theological doctrines, and the pope is perceived to be looser on these, he added.
Regardless of the accuracy of these judgments, these are the common perceptions, and so it is not surprising that Pope Francis would have a higher favorability rating among Democrats and liberals than he does among Republicans and conservatives, Pugliese said.
The ratings on how well Pope Francis is doing on handling cases of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy remain low, according to the Saint Leo poll, which shows 40.6 percent strongly and somewhat approve of the job he is doing in this area. In September, the rating was 43.8 percent.
“Many have criticized the Pope for supporting those who have covered up the abuse and for rehabilitating Italian priest Mauro Inzoli in 2014,” Pugliese said.
Pope Francis is perceived to continue a pattern of complicity on the part of the Church hierarchy. “Yet he continues to take steps toward cracking down on clerical sex abuse of minors,” Pugliese noted. “In September he stated that the Church will take a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy toward offenders, and said that there should be no chance for appeals when instances of abuse have been evidentially proven.”
About the poll
METHODOLOGY: The poll sampled opinions of 1,000 adult approximately proportional to state population contribution nationwide. The survey was conducted November 19 through November 24, 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.
The overall sample included 295 Catholics, representative of the population.
Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Communications firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 588-7118 or (813) 610-8416 (cell/text).
Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications email@example.com or (352) 588-8237 or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).
About Saint Leo University
Saint Leo University (www.saintleo.edu) 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.