Pope Francis, less popular among US Christians, survey says

Pew Research report shows that 84% of US Catholics have a positive view of the pope, but a growing share of them believe he is ‘too liberal’ and ‘naïve’.

Evangelical Focus

Pew Research · WASHINGTON D.C. · 09 MARCH 2018 · 11:00 CET

 Photo: Lawrence Jackson. / obamawhitehouse.archives.gov (CC0),
Photo: Lawrence Jackson. / obamawhitehouse.archives.gov (CC0)

Pew Research Center has just released a new national survey about how Americans see Pope Francis, five years after he was appointed as the catholic pontiff.

The interviews were conducted Janunary 10-15 among 1,503 adults, including 316 Catholics.

The survey shows that, around six-in-ten of the US public as a whole, say they have a favourable view of Pope Francis, which is slightly below the peak of 70% who rated him favourably in early 2017, but similar to the share of Americans who gave Francis a favourable rating in the summer of 2015.

Compared with Francis, Pope Benedict XVI generally earned lower ratings from the US public (except in April 2008, immediately following his trip to the country), while Pope John Paul II earned higher ratings from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s.



To know the opinion about Pope Francis among non-Catholic groups, the survey distinguishes 4 groups: white evangelical Protestants, black Protestants, white mainline Protestants and religiously unaffiliated.

The majority of of white evangelicals Protestants (52%), white mainline Protestants (67%) and black Protestants (53%) have positive views of Francis, although all of them rate him lower than they did before.

Additionally, Francis’ unfavorability ratings among all three are also up: from 9% to 28% among white evangelicals, from 15% to 21% among black Protestants, and from 7% to 17% among white mainline Protestants, according to the data collected by Pew since 2013.

The opposite trend can be seen among the religiously unaffiliated. Since March 2013, the pope’s favorability rating among the “nones” rose from 39% to 58%, while his unfavorability rating dropped from 27% to 16%.

However, even among them the share who rate him favourably has declined somewhat in the past year, from 71% in January 2017.

Many non-Catholic religious groups in U.S. give Pope Francis positive ratings


Meanwhile, the vast majority of US Catholics (84%) say they have a positive view of Pope Francis, which is virtually identical to the share who expressed a positive view of the pope after the first year of his pontificate.

Furthermore, roughly nine-in-ten US Catholics describe Pope Francis as “compassionate and humble”.



At the same time, the survey finds signs of some discontent towards Francis, with a growing share of Catholics who see the pope as being too liberal (34%, compared to 19% in 2015) as well as naïve (24%, while it was 15% in 2015).

According to Pew, “this is especially true among Catholics who are Republican or who lean Republican; the share of them who say Pope Francis is too liberal has more than doubled since 2015 (from 23% to 55%)”.


Pope spoke at the  White House in his last visit. / Photo: Pete Souza: obamawhitehouse.archives.gov (CC0)

A partisan gap also exists among Catholics on views about whether the pope is naïve (32% among Republicans vs. 18% among Democrats).



“There is no evidence of a ‘Francis effect’, at least in terms of mass attendance: 41% went to church weekly in 2012, and 38% in 2017, or growth in the percentage of the population that identifies as Catholic (22% in 2012 vs. 20% in 2017)”, the survey points out.

More than half of US Catholics (58%) believe the Argentinian pontiff represents a “major and positive change for the Roman Catholic Church, down from 68% who felt that way early in his papacy in 2014 .

Some say his most significant action was setting a good Christian example (9%), while for others it was his focus on helping the poor (8%) or being more accepting (9%). But many didn’t know or wouldn’t answer the question (29%).

Published in: Evangelical Focus - life & tech - Pope Francis, less popular among US Christians, survey says