Pope's US visit generates goodwill, especially among liberals

Thu, Oct 8th 2015 12:00 pm
Pope Francis met with President Barack Obama at the White House during his papal visit in late September. (File Photo)
Pope Francis met with President Barack Obama at the White House during his papal visit in late September. (File Photo)

After Pope Francis' visit to the United States, a new Pew Research Center survey finds that the pope has generated goodwill toward the Roman Catholic Church among many people across the political spectrum. Ideological liberals and moderates, along with Democrats, are especially likely to say Francis has given them a more positive view of the church.

At the same time, the pope's own favorability rating remains about where it was in early 2015. And most Americans say their view of the Catholic Church has not changed because of Pope Francis. Overall, 28% of U.S. adults say they have a more positive view of the Catholic Church because of Pope Francis. Far fewer (6%) say they have a more negative view of the church because of Francis. Roughly six-in-ten Americans (58%) say their view of the church has not changed very much.

Both Catholics and non-Catholics are more likely to say that Francis has had a positive rather than negative impact on their view of the church; the same is true of Americans in both major political parties and across the ideological spectrum. But improved views of the Catholic Church are especially apparent among self-identified liberals and moderates as well as among Democrats. Nearly four-in-ten liberals (39%) say they have a more positive view of the church because of Pope Francis, dwarfing the 4% who say they have a more negative view of the church by a 10-to-1 margin. Among moderates, 31% say their view of the church has improved because of Francis, while 5% say their view of it has become more negative. And among conservatives, the ratio of those with a more positive view of the church (22%) to those with a more negative view (10%) is closer to 2-to-1.

A similar split is seen among Democrats and Republicans. While 27% of Republicans say Francis has had a positive impact on their view of the Catholic Church and just 10% say they have a more negative view (a ratio of nearly 3-to-1), the ratio of positive to negative sentiments is even more uneven among Democrats. Fully 35% of Democrats say they have a more positive view of the church because of Pope Francis, while just 2% say Francis has pushed their view of it in the other direction - a ratio of roughly 17-to-1.

Francis' favorability rating now stands at 68%, up modestly since June, when 64% of American adults said they had a favorable view of the pope, and roughly equivalent to the 70% of Americans who expressed a positive view of him in February 2015. The recent improvement in Francis' favorability rating is concentrated among non-Catholics. Roughly two-thirds of non-Catholics (65%) now express a favorable view of Pope Francis, which is on par with February (when 64% of non-Catholics expressed a favorable opinion of the pope as he approached the two-year mark of his papacy) and up 7 percentage points since June.

Eight-in-ten Catholics surveyed (81%) now say they have a favorable view of Pope Francis. By comparison, 86% of Catholics expressed a favorable view of Pope Francis in June, and nine-in-ten Catholics (90%) expressed a favorable view of him in February. Pope Francis' favorability rating among U.S. Catholics is now roughly equivalent to the rating Catholics gave Pope Benedict XVI following his visit to the country in April 2008.

These are among the key findings of a new Pew Research survey, conducted Oct. 1-4, 2015, on landlines and cellphones among a national sample of 1,000 adults. While the survey provides a helpful initial snapshot of the impact of Francis' visit on Americans' views about the pope and the Catholic Church, its limited size and duration make it difficult to discern much about why Catholics may be somewhat less admiring of Pope Francis now than they were earlier in the year.

The data do suggest, however, that Francis' declining favorability rating among Catholics is mainly due to the changing views of regular Mass-attending Catholics. Among the 97 Catholics interviewed who say they attend Mass at least once a week, 84% have a favorable view of Pope Francis - down since February, when 95% of regular Mass-attending Catholics expressed a favorable view of the pontiff. Mass-attending Catholics have not become significantly more likely to express unfavorable views of Pope Francis; rather, they are now more likely to say they have no opinion.

The findings are for immediate release and are available at  http://www.pewforum.org/2015/10/07/following-visit-two-thirds-in-u-s-view-pope-francis-favorably/.
 

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