Shortly after Pope Francis began his papacy in 2013, he was unknown among 44% of Americans. Those with an opinion of him — including roughly equal shares of Democrats and Republicans — were far more likely to hold positive views of the pope than negative ones. Today, Americans continue to view Pope Francis in a positive light, though views of him have become politically polarized: More Democrats than Republicans view him favorably, even as more Republicans than Democrats view the Catholic Church favorably.
Pope Francis is thought of favorably by more Americans than the Catholic Church is, though Roman Catholics view him somewhat more negatively than they view the Catholic Church overall. More Americans have a very or somewhat unfavorable view of the Catholic Church (43%) than have a very or somewhat favorable one (38%). But Pope Francis is viewed unfavorably by just 26%, while 43% view him favorably. Majorities of Roman Catholics have a favorable view of the Catholic Church (77%) and of Pope Francis (66%).
Ideologically conservative Catholics are particularly positive about the Catholic Church in general and far less positive about the pope: 84% have a favorable opinion of the Catholic Church, while just 47% have a favorable opinion of Pope Francis.
The pope is seen as more liberal than the Catholic Church itself, particularly among Roman Catholics. About one-quarter of Catholics (28%) say Pope Francis is too liberal, and 16% of Catholics say he makes them think less positively about the church.
In the aftermath of Pope Francis offering a critique of some conservative American Catholics, our poll finds that more Americans think Pope Francis should stay out of U.S. domestic affairs (46%) than think he should take an active part when he thinks he can help (25%). By 44% to 36%, Catholics are more likely to think he should stay out of U.S. domestic affairs rather than participate. Democrats are evenly divided on this question: 33% say the Pope should stay out of U.S. affairs and 33% say he should be active. Catholic Democrats are especially in favor of the pope taking an active role: 51% say he should. By a margin of 59% to 19%, Republicans prefer that he stay out.
The latest results mark a shift since 2015, when Americans were 15 percentage points more likely than they are now to say the pope should take an active part in U.S. domestic affairs.
Methodology: Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to November 1, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 31% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 3%.
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