New report says most U.S. Catholics approve of pope

(OSV News) — A new report shows most U.S. Catholics approve of Pope Francis — but his ratings have slipped in the past few years, marked by political divides.

The findings were released by the Pew Research Center April 12 from a study that surveyed close to 12,700 respondents, 2,019 of whom self-identified as Catholic. The data showed that 75% of U.S. Catholics regarded the pope favorably, compared to 83% in 2021 and 90% in early 2015.

Shift in Pope Francis’ popularity over time

By comparison, Pope Francis has generally earned higher marks among the nation’s Catholics than Pope Benedict XVI, although neither pope has enjoyed the popularity of St. John Paul II, who according to Pew enjoyed approval ratings ranging from 91% to 93% in polls conducted in 1987, 1990 and 1996.

At the same time, Pew research associate Patricia Tevington, one of three primary researchers for the report, noted that data’s methodology shifted within that period from random-dial telephone surveys (conducted January 2020 and prior) to online surveys from the center’s American Trends Panel.

Tevington also told OSV News that “the most striking thing” to her and her colleagues in the report were “the political divides in terms of favorability towards Francis.”

Political divides in approval

The report said that 89% of U.S. Catholics who are Democrat approve of the pope, while just 7% disapprove of him. In contrast, 63% of U.S. Catholics who are Republican give the pope a thumbs-up, while 35% view him unfavorably.

“The partisan gap in views of Pope Francis is now as large as it’s ever been in our surveys,” said the report.

“There was a point at which there wasn’t too much of a difference in terms of people’s opinions towards Pope Francis, regardless of … whether or not they were a Democrat or Democrat-leaning Catholics or Republican or Republican-leaning Catholics,” Teverington told OSV News. “And we still see kind of the overall majority of Catholics see him mostly or very favorably, but there is this kind of increasing divide where about a third of Republican or Republican-leaning Catholics view him mostly or very unfavorably, but only just 7% of Democrat or Democrat-leaning Catholics (do so).”

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