ST. LEO, FL – More Americans reported holding favorable views of Pope Francis in an autumn survey conducted by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute (https://polls.saintleo.edu) than earlier this year; the results are roughly the same as November 2019.
As part of a Catholic Benedictine university, the polling institute at Saint Leo University in Florida regularly covers Americans’ attitudes concerning Pope Francis and the Catholic Church in America.
Respondents are regularly asked whether they hold a strongly favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, or not at all favorable view of the Church’s leader.
Of the 1,000 Americans surveyed between September 27 and October 2, 23 percent said they hold a strongly favorable view of the pontiff, and 33.4 percent hold a somewhat favorable view, for a sum of 56.4 percent. In February 2020, when the most recent previous poll was conducted, the comparable sum was a bit lower, at 52.2 percent; in November 2019, the result was roughly even at 56.6 percent.
Moreover, the pontiff’s image among Americans seems to have recovered from a “significant drop” in October 2018, when the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report on past clerical sexual abuse was still new, according to Dr. Stephen Okey, an associate professor of theology at Saint Leo University. Okey also comments on some aspects of religion for the Saint Leo University Polling Institute. In the October 2018 poll, people were reacting from concern about the handling of abuse cases by the Catholic Church, Okey said, and those with favorable views of the pope declined to 44.7 percent.
Okey said he thinks two main factors account for the improved view of the pope. The passage of time since the release of the grand jury report “has made the abuse scandal less pressing for many. Second, Pope Francis has sought to make amends during that time that have been positively received.”
More recently, Pope Francis has been admired and appreciated for his moral and spiritual leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said. Okey cited, for instance, the day in late March that the pope appeared, in the rain, in Rome’s St. Peter’s Square to deliver a special blessing and pray for an end to the pandemic. He praised the sacrifices of medical workers, supermarket employees, janitors and cleaning crews, police, priests, and volunteers as “courageous and generous self-denial.” Okey added that during the following month, on Good Friday (April 10), the pontiff included two doctors, nurses, and others in a procession to mark the solemn day.
Another theology faculty member at Saint Leo, Dr. Marc Pugliese, added that at multiple times, Pope Francis has directed donations of ventilators and other medical devices to sites in need globally. In another initiative, Pugliese said, the pope “started a fund of one million euros [about $1.1 million] to help those in the Diocese of Rome facing financial difficulties due to the pandemic.”
When he did that in June, the pope said he wanted the money to go to working families who were not getting other aid from other organizations.
Among Catholics in the national poll, who might be most familiar with these events, the pope’s combined favorability rating increased to 79.9 percent in the recent poll, from 74.6 percent in February 2020. In November 2019, the pontiff’s rating was 78.1 percent, about even with his current status.
In Florida, where 500 respondents across the state were surveyed, a sum of 57.2 percent gave favorable opinions of Pope Francis. That compares with 55.0 percent in February 2020 and 55.8 percent in November 2019.
Opinions on the Catholic Church
The survey also asked, as it does regularly, whether respondents hold a strongly favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, or not at all favorable view of the Catholic Church in the United States.
The cumulative favorable opinions of the Church nationally reached 48.1 percent of all respondents, compared with 43.6 percent in February 2020 and 42 percent in November 2019.
Among Catholics in the national survey, the favorable opinion was up to 76.4 percent, compared to 73.5 percent in February 2020. In November 2019, the sum was at 69.3 percent.
In Florida, the favorable opinion of the Catholic Church was 49.2 percent in the recent survey. That compares with 44.2 percent in February 2020, and with 48.6 percent in November 2019.
Pugliese said he thinks that some of the positive perceptions people have held of Pope Francis lately have likely also helped the perception of the Catholic Church.
Note: The survey responses were collected before recent news that Pope Francis is supportive of civil unions for gay Catholics, and so the institute does not yet have data reflecting reactions to that development.
About the Poll
METHODOLOGY: This national survey was conducted from September 27 through October 2, among a base of 1,000 respondents nationally, using an online instrument. The national sample has an associated margin of error of +/- 3.0 percent at a 95 percent confidence for questions asked of all 1,000 respondents.
The statewide survey was also conducted from September 27 through October 2, among a base of 500 respondents, using an online instrument. The sample has an associated margin of error of +/- 4.5 percent at a 95 percent confidence for questions asked of all 500 respondents.
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 also be found here: http://polls.saintleo.edu. You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.
Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Writer & Media Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org, (352) 588-7118 or cell (813) 610-8416.
Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications email@example.com or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).
About Saint Leo University
Saint Leo University is one of the largest Catholic universities in the nation, offering nearly 60 undergraduate and graduate-level degree programs to more than 19,500 students each year. Founded in 1889 by Benedictine monks, the private, nonprofit university is known for providing a values-based education to learners of all backgrounds and ages in the liberal arts tradition. Saint Leo is regionally accredited and offers a residential campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, 16 education centers in five states, and an online program for students anywhere. The university is home to more than 95,000 alumni. Learn more at saintleo.edu.