December 24th, 2013
06:00 AM ET

CNN Poll: Pope's approval rating sky-high

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) - As Pope Francis prepares to celebrate his first Christmas at the Vatican, Americans' opinions of the pontiff appear to be as high as the dome on St. Peter's Basilica, according to a new survey.

A CNN/ORC International poll released Tuesday found that 88% of American Catholics approve of how Francis is handling his role as head of the 1.2 billion-member church.

The popular pontiff has also made a positive impression among Americans in general: Nearly three in four view Francis favorably.  The new survey suggests that the Pope is arguably the most well-regarded religious figure among the American public today, said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

Nine months into his papacy, the Argentine-born Francis has captured attention with crowd-pleasing acts of compassion, from embracing a severely disfigured man, to washing the feet of juvenile delinquents, to hosting homeless men at his birthday Mass this month.

The Pope has also shown a common touch rare for such a lofty religious leader. He has eschewed the trappings of the papacy in favor of humbler digs, simpler vestments and a cheaper car. He worked as a bar bouncer and a janitor before he was a priest, and is not shy about telling people.

Pope: I was once a bar bouncer

According to one study, Pope Francis was the most talked about person on the Internet this year, and even atheists have professed appreciation for the 77-year-old pontiff.

The breadth of Francis' popularity was on display at American newsstands this month: he was named person of the year by both Time magazine and The Advocate, a gay and lesbian publication.

"While 2013 will be remembered for the work of hundreds in advancing marriage equality, it will also be remembered for the example of one man," The Advocate said. In remarks that rippled across the globe, Pope Francis said in July, "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?

Pope Francis on gays: 'Who am I to judge?'

While the Pope has not changed church doctrine, he has urged Catholics to shift their focus from culture war issues to caring for people on society's margins, especially the poor.

"I see the church as a field hospital after battle," Francis said in September.

American Catholics appear to like the new course the Pope has set for their church. Nearly two-thirds agree with him about the amount of attention that should be paid to issues such as abortion and homosexuality, according to the CNN/ORC poll.

More than 85% of American Catholics say Francis is neither too liberal nor too conservative, and 86% say he's in touch with the modern world. By comparison, more than half of American Catholics said Pope John Paul II was out of step with the times in 2003, near the end of his 26-year-long papacy.

But Francis has been a fierce critic of the status quo, especially what calls the "idolatry of money" present in modern-day capitalism. In a papal statement last month, for example, the Pope blasted the theory of trickle-down economics, calling it "crude and naïve."

Conservative critics such as Rush Limbaugh pounced on the Pope's remarks, calling him a closet Marxist. But nearly two in three American Catholics agree with the Pope about capitalism and the free market's effects on the poor, according to the CNN/ORC poll.

Pope: Marxist ideology is 'wrong'

On other key issues for Catholics - the role of women in the church and the sexual abuse crises - Francis gets similarly high ratings from his American flock.

More than six in 10 American Catholics agree with Francis' comments about women in the church, according to the CNN/ORC poll. The Pope has said that women should have a larger role in church governance but cannot be ordained as priests.

Similarly, more than six in 10 American Catholics say Francis is doing a good job handling fallout from the church's sexual abuse scandal, even as most (64%) also say the church overall has done a poor job on the issue.

This month, the Vatican announced the creation of a new commission to care for victims of clergy sexual abuse and to prevent future crimes.

American Catholics had given especially low marks on the sexual abuse scandal to Francis' predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, with just 36% saying in 2010 that he had handled the issue well.

CNN's Holland said it's difficult to ascertain exactly how Francis' popularity stacks up against his predecessors, however. "It's a tough question since polling on Popes is pretty sparse," he said.

What's more, like political polling, approval ratings shift depending on the public mood and perception of a Pope's performance.

For example, three-quarters of American Catholics approved of how John Paul was leading the church in 1994; that number rose to 84% in 1999 and dipped to 64% in 2003, at the height of the church's sexual abuse crisis.

It remains to be seen how long the honeymoon will last for Francis, and how long he can continue to build goodwill among American Catholics.

The poll was conducted for CNN by ORC International on December 16 through Thursday, with 1,035 adults nationwide, including 191 Catholics, questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.

Pope Francis' greatest hits of 2013

- CNN Belief Blog Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Christianity • Culture wars • Leaders • Pope Benedict XVI • Pope Francis • Pope John Paul II • Sex abuse • Vatican

soundoff (3,274 Responses)
  1. Mike

    New pope is best pope.

    December 24, 2013 at 9:56 am |
  2. You're kidding, right

    The sampling was only 191 Catholics out of the millions, and that's considered valid? Who are you trying to kid cnn?

    December 24, 2013 at 9:54 am |
    • Mike

      As long as it was truly a random sampling, that would be plenty in this case. The confidence level wouldn't be very high, but additional polling would probably not change the favorability rating much if at all.

      December 24, 2013 at 10:01 am |
    • Patrick in Wisconsin

      It's called a statistical random sample. Clearly you never attended a statistics class.

      December 24, 2013 at 11:15 am |
  3. Dan

    For many of us Christians, Pope Francis clearly follows Jesus.
    Pope Francis love for God's children is very inspiring.

    Separation of church and state. Jesus taught us to love one another. Jesus avoided politics because he understood those who push a particular political party care more about power than they do about their fellow humans.

    Love one another. As children of God, we need to take care of the sick, poor, and elderly. One day, we may be the ones in need.

    December 24, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • lol??

      King Herod didn't have a proper birth certificate.

      December 24, 2013 at 9:55 am |
  4. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    Much good could be done by the redistribution of wealth in the world. Pope Francis could lead in that. The Church's many assets valued as priceless could be sold at prices that could bring food, shelter and healthcare to millions.

    December 24, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • Jeff

      Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.

      December 24, 2013 at 10:02 am |
      • Hook, Line and Sinker

        Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day;

        Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime;

        Give a man religion and he will die praying for a fish!

        December 24, 2013 at 10:17 am |
        • naksuthin

          Christ never said that. He wasn't a Capitalist
          He was a socialist. And his early followers sold all their belongings, pooled their resources so that those who had more gave to those who had less.

          Christianity has always taught redistribution of wealth

          ACTS 4; All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

          36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

          2 Corinthians 8:13-15

          13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, 15 as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”[b]

          December 24, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
      • basedonfact

        Give a man a fish he eats for a day.
        Teach a man to fish and you can take his fish, pay him a nickel and tell him if he wants to eat the fish he has to buy it for a dollar at your market and call him a moocher for not having his own fish like a good capitalist.

        December 24, 2013 at 10:37 am |
      • thom

        Turn it into a fishing free-for-all, and the narcissists in the group will decide that because they have the longest fishing poles, they are supposed to get all the fish and let the few they don't want 'trickle down" to the rest.

        December 25, 2013 at 11:43 am |
    • Austin

      Tom Tom, I agree with you i wish more Christians picked up on this welfare from the Old Testament. but this should not be done without Biblical enrichment. Those who are least will be greatest in His kingdom.

      December 24, 2013 at 10:11 am |
  5. Brenda


    December 24, 2013 at 9:48 am |
    • Kenman

      If you think everyone that expresses their faith, and it happens to conflict with your liberal views, is "hateful", then you don't have the guts to uphold ANY mainstream religion.

      December 24, 2013 at 9:53 am |
  6. ChristianeAmanpouristheman

    When the Communist News Network opines on religion, I worry.

    December 24, 2013 at 9:45 am |
    • Kenman

      You are right to do so! Their "belief" blog is usually about atheists, or by them, or the demanded tolerance of everything that faith tells us is wrong and destructive!

      December 24, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • Observer

      It's easy to see why so many believers try to trash CNN. It seems to support the Golden Rule.

      December 24, 2013 at 11:17 am |
  7. Bruce Wayne

    88% Approval, that means America is 12% Trolls

    December 24, 2013 at 9:45 am |
  8. John Stefanyszyn

    "The new survey suggests that the Pope is arguably the most well-regarded religious figure among the American public today"
    Why is it so?

    Is it because he has confessed that Jesus Christ is the Son of the ONE AND ONLY GOD?
    is it because he is confessing that we are to worship the One Lord Our Creator and Him ALONE, His Will Alone, to serve in obedience.....as Our Lord the Christ said to satan?

    Or is it because that Jorge Bergoglio has confessed "freedom and equality of self-rights and self-religion"?

    Since Americans live by their love for "freedom", the answer is obvious why Jorge Bergoglio is so popular.

    BUT NOTE...it is ONLY Christ that will rule according to and in obedience to the Will of the One and Only Creator God...AND NOT according to man's love for his "freedom".

    December 24, 2013 at 9:45 am |
    • Denise

      He has stated that as a mortal being he is not perfect!

      December 24, 2013 at 9:55 am |
    • One one

      Do you not like freedom ? What, in your opinion would be a better option ?

      December 24, 2013 at 9:56 am |
    • Patrick in Wisconsin

      If you don't like freedom, why do you live in the U.S.?

      December 24, 2013 at 11:14 am |
  9. DJG

    The poorest human beings on society's margins are unborn babies. They need our compassion and attention more than anyone else.

    December 24, 2013 at 9:42 am |
    • sammycake

      Oh please!!!!, what about all those babies and children living on the street. If you are a real Christian read NYT piece called an Invisible Child.

      December 24, 2013 at 10:18 am |
      • DJG

        Two wrongs don't make a right.
        What is your point? That child abuse after birth means that pre-birth child abuse doesn't matter?

        December 24, 2013 at 10:33 am |
  10. Tweety

    Fraud, publicity hound, attention Wh*re. This guy is the False Prophet for the end times.

    December 24, 2013 at 9:42 am |
  11. Matthew

    Equality Sells.

    December 24, 2013 at 9:40 am |
  12. Rob

    Pope Francis is the antichrist

    December 24, 2013 at 9:39 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Can't be. My cat is the Antichrist.

      December 24, 2013 at 9:40 am |
    • lol??

      There are many antichrists. Exhibit 1)HAHA comments.

      Humanist Atheists Harvard Agnostics, it's official now. They have a chaplain, ol' chap.

      December 24, 2013 at 9:53 am |
    • Austin

      the anti christ will lead a world wide false religion. we know that. Hebrews talks about Christ as High Priest, and i agree that no one needs a priest for salvation, or a church.

      but aside from the questionable priesthood, what has pope francis done that is outside scriptural exhortation?

      December 24, 2013 at 9:58 am |
      • mike

        The antichrist was Nero, and all the armageddon stuff was fantasizing about the fall of the Roman Empire.. This is a closed case.

        December 24, 2013 at 11:39 am |
  13. ertwngr

    Pope Francis is loved by the media because he's dumbing down Catholicism to their level. They hated Benedict because he talked over their heads. The message is identical as it has been for 2000 years. But Francis makes it understandable for challenged journalism degree holders.

    December 24, 2013 at 9:39 am |
  14. Organic Man Lives in an Oraganic Universe

    Blessed is this man and his reward is to bless the inhabitants of this planet. In the past I've railed against "organized" religions and the corruption of the churches but now comes this Pope who from which hope springs eternal... he is your blessing if you can hear with a balanced heart. He is the TRUE definition of belief in a higher order of man. He is a true king of kings that has come to our planet to teach us how to understand ourselves. Watch this man closely and be amazed at the miracles he will perform. While I'm not a western christian I do believe in the message of Christ the teacher and this man is here to remind us of the meaning of Jesus's parables. thank god he has awaken again, he has awaken the love of Jesus's message in me again and gives me hope in a world of corruption. Thank you pope Francis thank you!!!!

    December 24, 2013 at 9:35 am |
    • Austin

      awesome! remember that the book of Hebrews tells you directly that Jesus is High Priest and mediator, and that you do not need to go any further than prayer for salvation and forgiveness of sins.

      December 24, 2013 at 9:41 am |
      • Organic Man Lives in an Oraganic Universe

        I can't say I believe passage of the book my friend, as a practicing esoteric I find the whole Idea of simple prayer and belief to be unreasonably dense thinking on part of the writers or a concoction of errors when the book was torn apart by Constantine and the council of Nicaea thereby changing the message. A man will be known by his actions not his belief. This is why I see Pope Francis as a king among simple humans being who are not transforming because they believe in a 24/7 drive by salvation, this just doesn't make sense to me given the rest of the book, many great people have told us ...YOU have to do "the WORK"... George Ivanovich Gurdjieff.

        December 24, 2013 at 10:02 am |
        • Austin

          well I agree with what you are commending as the actions of Pope! but yet concerned, based upon the doctrines by Paul, as to the emphasis upon the Catholic priest hood.

          furthermore, as a non catholic, I have expernienced the profoundly supernatural voice and seal of the Holy Spirit in my life. Let us all send forth the blessings of salvation , paid in full by the blood of Christ. Peace to you brother.

          December 24, 2013 at 10:17 am |
  15. Dyslexic doG

    At this time of the year, I send out a reminder to all my friends:

    Jesus wasn't born, he was written!

    December 24, 2013 at 9:31 am |
    • Austin

      I can garuntee you otherwise 100% due to the supernatural communication from the Holy Spirit.
      The Holy Spirit is a sanctifying spirit that supernatrually bears the truth of God's word on a persons heart.

      December 24, 2013 at 9:33 am |
      • Charm Quark

        You probably know that you can make prophecies about almost everything by staring into a cats eyes for a long period of time. The cat has to be alive, Austin, so take better care of you kitties, be vigilant.

        December 24, 2013 at 9:39 am |
        • Austin

          ok. I had a dream that there i was salking through a forest, it was dark and snowey and i came upon an a frame cabin. i knocked and a lady said i could stay there. and she said she had 2 kids. one was sitting there and the other had died, but the kids spirit was singing in the corner of the room , in a dual tone demonic voice. my body was inverted and levitated in the dream, and as it sang , the cat that had randomly shown up on my porch that day(in real life), ran underneath my inverted body with a big cut down its abdomen and blood gushing out.

          i woke up knew this was a demented vision, and i went to the end of the driveway and the cat had been ran over and was flatter than a pancake. the streed is 500 feet from my door.

          December 24, 2013 at 9:46 am |
        • Charm Quark

          Thanks again for the story, you are a hoot. Just a tip, get your self a girlie magazine and look at the pictures just before bedtime, you may dream about getting laid, much more fun.

          December 24, 2013 at 10:01 am |
        • G to the T

          Austin – the problem (other than it requiring we take you at your word) is that you jump from "I had a dream that (in part) came true" to "god is real and the Bible is his infallible word". I would argue the evidence you provide could be a) pyschic phenomenon or b) conincidence.

          Probability is a wonderful thing. Do you know that just based on probability we can expect at least 3 miraculous events in the US every day (where "miraculous" equals something happening with a near zero probability)?

          Please understand, I don't doubt your sincerity, I merely feel that your certainty is unwarranted.

          December 27, 2013 at 9:59 am |
      • mike

        And somehow it's only schizophrenia if you say such things in any other context than Christianity.

        December 24, 2013 at 11:40 am |
    • Chris

      You are on the other side of history.

      December 24, 2013 at 9:35 am |
    • Rob

      Really??? So you were around back then???

      December 24, 2013 at 9:37 am |
    • Tom O'Reilly

      Anyone who actually considers themselves to be Catholic, should view this report with great concern. His support is communing from the left. many of these supporters are atheistic and believe in everything that the Church has traditionally opposed. This pope is a sad dupe for the left. And while he basks in this praise from the anti-God crowd today, he will be answering to Jesus Christ tomorrow. In the end, God will demand an accounting for the many souls that will be lost because of his errant ways.

      December 24, 2013 at 9:40 am |
    • Gol

      While you are welcome to your opinion on the spiritual nature of Jesus. You are not welcome to your own facts in regards to Jesus being a historical figure.

      December 24, 2013 at 9:43 am |
      • tallulah13

        Everything about Christ is written at the earliest 30-40 years after his alleged death. The Romans were avid record keepers. Surely the miraculous events described in the bible would have been noticed by some nonchristian and recorded if they had actually happened. Maybe there was a historical human named Jesus, but there is no solid evidence.

        December 24, 2013 at 10:02 am |
  16. Doris

    From CNN home: "Code-breaker forgiven six decades later: Alan Turing, a British code-breaker during World War II who was later subjected to chemical castration for homosexual activity".

    Gee – who is the real Christian this Christmas:

    -the Lutheran sect who still officially categorizes the Pope as the Antichrist?

    -the Catholic who helps spread disease in poorer countries (because of their unrealistic stance on contraception)?

    -the Christian who would rather me let their sick child die rather than seek medical care?

    -the Southern Baptist who wants his woman in the kitchen and quiet at church?

    -the follower of Santa Muerte who occasionally still gets to sacrifice people?

    -the Christian who believes that Jesus and Satan were brothers and that Christ will return to Jerusalem AND Jackson County, Missouri?

    -the Westboro Baptist member who believes Americans are being killed at war because America is tolerant of homosexuals?

    -the Christian who believes the OT is superseded by the NT?

    -the Christian who believes that the NT brings along all of the OT law?

    This Pope seems to have some good intentions, and I know many other Christians that do also, but the basis for their belief has a long way to evolve (if possible) before I am not completely disgusted with it.

    "Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth."

    (Thomas Jefferson, from Notes on the State of Virginia, 1785)

    December 24, 2013 at 9:27 am |
    • Chris

      -the Catholic who helps spread disease in poorer countries (because of their unrealistic stance on contraception)
      except that this is a complete fabrication. Dr. Edward Green (Harvard HIV expert) said the Pope is correct regarding condoms in Africa (look it up).

      Stop posting before you research.

      December 24, 2013 at 9:34 am |
      • Doris

        First of all, I didn't mention specifically Africa, where the debate still goes on even on that issue. Also, note that Dr. Green states: "they should have a back-up role even in the generalised epidemics of Africa. I believe condoms should be made available to everyone. It should be, and as you say, the ABC strategy: Abstinence, be faithful, use a condom."

        December 24, 2013 at 9:42 am |
        • lol??

          Older women are supposed to help train the younger to love their children and hubbies, not kill and stir up trouble.

          December 24, 2013 at 9:46 am |
      • Charm Quark

        Do not know who your Doctor is but you seem to be implying that HIV aids is the only STD that can be prevented by using a condom. Even in the USA where condoms are readily available and used by the responsible STD rates have been increasing, look it up.

        December 24, 2013 at 9:56 am |
    • Austin

      Galatians 2:17
      But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be

      December 24, 2013 at 9:36 am |
      • Free Holiday Nuts

        Let's just be done with it and give Austin his award early today. It's the award for the Fundy Method of Inquiry & Verification... congratulations, Austin! For those not familiar with the Fundy Method of Inquiry & Verification, it works like this:


        December 24, 2013 at 9:47 am |
        • Austin

          Christians, having a spiritual sense awakened , lack intelligence?

          December 24, 2013 at 9:55 am |
        • lol??

          Run faster, Masters. You can pay off the national debt in no time and be free!!

          December 24, 2013 at 9:58 am |
        • Austin

          eheh, uhhh, who are the bankers in the federeal reserve? applause! they have our best interests as a nation at hand

          December 24, 2013 at 10:04 am |
        • Free Holiday Nuts

          Nope Austin and lol?? The Fundy Method of Inquiry & Verification is all about that Circle that will be Unbroken – some think that means the Bible proves the Bible. Spinning away in ignorance!

          December 24, 2013 at 10:11 am |
    • Richard57

      star of Bethlehem-the scientist examining the story using modern tech had to stop half way in....because it proved to be true...and it is incredible. believe or not-criticize anything-beiconoclastic-yes, coercion is bad–even if in sheep's clothing-what does Jesus prove-that religious people can be killers-He only got mad at religious people-hahahahaha...just from the story alone...you know it is beyond us and reveals us.....try 'Case for christ'

      December 24, 2013 at 9:55 am |
      • Austin

        Hebrews 4:14-16
        New International Version (NIV)

        Jesus the Great High Priest
        14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,[a] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

        December 24, 2013 at 10:08 am |
  17. Dan Allen

    88%+ plus Catholics believe in imaginary friends. Consider the source.

    December 24, 2013 at 9:27 am |
  18. Gunter Pfaff

    The church is a bastion of patriarchy – I would respect him if he were willing to change that and if he then would start to dismantle the church – because all it does is collect money from the poor and use it to support all these guys in robes.

    December 24, 2013 at 9:27 am |
    • lol??

      Christians pray to the Father.

      December 24, 2013 at 9:42 am |
    • mike

      To be fair, much of the wealth of the Vatican was stolen, not donated.

      December 24, 2013 at 11:43 am |
  19. lol??

    Paul wrote to the gentiles in Rome to fix the false doctrines simon the sorcerer was dishing out. Must not have "took".

    December 24, 2013 at 9:26 am |
    • Chris

      Hah? Not sure what you point is, other than prejudice.

      December 24, 2013 at 9:28 am |
      • lol??

        Not sure why you expressed an accusation.

        December 24, 2013 at 9:36 am |
  20. drc

    Well, just reading the headline I knew it would bring out the loons to bring their usual negativity. If you don't like Christianity, believe in God or are in general a miserable person you have the right to ignore the article.

    December 24, 2013 at 9:25 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      If only it could be as easy to ignore Christianity.

      December 24, 2013 at 9:27 am |
    • One one

      Most of the slings and arrows are comming from Catholics vs. evangelicals.

      December 24, 2013 at 9:29 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.