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. George

    He is part of the change coming about of the end of the Bible thumbing bigots.

    December 24, 2013 at 10:39 am |
  2. Timothy Tebow - God's OTHER son

    I spoke to Dad yesterday after practicing throwing wounded duck passes. He said he likes the new Pope, so there ya go.

    -Tim, #15 in your gameday program, #1 in your heart

    December 24, 2013 at 10:38 am |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      God's favored son was so good at being a QB... that he sacrificed him to DWTS...

      December 24, 2013 at 10:45 am |
      • Timothy Tebow - God's OTHER son

        Getting nailed by one of the DWTS bimbos beats getting nailed to a cross!
        I hear....

        -Tim, "Pure as snow....riiiiiiiight" Tebow

        December 24, 2013 at 10:50 am |
  3. Roy

    Popes have been accommodating the jewish agenda since Vatican II threw in the towel.

    This one's just more open about it. Maybe even proud of it.

    December 24, 2013 at 10:38 am |
  4. Nug

    All of those who see His Holiness is such a favorable light should follow his lead. Spend time with God every day in prayer, give Sundays back to God, raise your children with the light and hope of Jesus Christ, give them something stronger other then watered down spirituality. And.... Go to confession! Go to confession! God wants to forgive you but you have to ask. He's waiting for you. Go to confession you will not regret it. God bless you Merry Christmas!

    December 24, 2013 at 10:35 am |
    • RG

      There's no such thing as watered down spirituality

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

        There is no such thing as spirituality. ( at least as far as anyone can show)

        December 24, 2013 at 11:12 am |
  5. erik

    It is amazing to see one person make such a difference. He reminds us what values mean he reminds us that we are together and all we have is each other and we are only as valuable as the love we do give.

    December 24, 2013 at 10:34 am |
  6. Jesus Christ Son of God

    He looks like Dumbo with those ears. So, maybe he is just another Disney character, not real.

    December 24, 2013 at 10:33 am |
    • Rd

      Dumbo is the s***t

      December 24, 2013 at 10:55 am |
    • RG

      You're fake

      December 24, 2013 at 10:35 am |
  7. Matt

    Unless he provides uncontradicted, empirical proof to the supernatural claims of their deity's existence, meet the new boss, same as the old bss.

    December 24, 2013 at 10:32 am |
  8. Religion is the cause of and non-solution to all problems

    This dude's the real deal!!!!!

    -Big Foot, the Tooth Fairy and Leprechauns

    December 24, 2013 at 10:28 am |
    • Troll Spotter

      Found another one

      December 24, 2013 at 10:30 am |
      • Religion is the cause of and non-solution to all problems

        So anyone who sees religion as a bunch of mythology is a "troll". Interesting....

        December 24, 2013 at 10:34 am |
        • VoiceintheDesert

          Exactly, @Well Duh. It's okay to disagree and have differing opinions. To use inflammatory comments and insult the another's beliefs just shows a lack of ability to civilly debate an idea. Then you're just a troll.

          December 24, 2013 at 11:24 am |
        • In Santa we trust

          How is that inflammatory? Your myths have no more evidence than the myths mentioned.

          December 24, 2013 at 10:52 am |
        • Well duh

          No no no...you saying inflammatory things make you a troll deary.

          December 24, 2013 at 10:36 am |
      • Jen

        Good spotting:)

        December 24, 2013 at 10:31 am |
  9. Jen

    I'm afraid if your approval numbers are above 50%, you're not doing your job. A religious leader/teacher must help people see their sin and lead them to repentance, not tell them everything they do is fine. Jesus certainly didn't work that way. Preachers of the Word who say nice things and "tickle" the ears of their fold are leading them down a sure path to destruction...they're a dime a dozen in this world.

    December 24, 2013 at 10:27 am |
    • VoiceintheDesert

      So if the guy was abusing kids and was unpopular, he'd be okay? But because he's living his faith and people are thrilled to see someone lead by example, he's not okay? Hmmmm... interesting logic.

      December 24, 2013 at 11:26 am |

      Within 200 years of Jesus' birth, christianity had spread to the corners of the known world. Would you be saying the same in the year 200?

      December 24, 2013 at 10:36 am |
      • igaftr

        No...because the world does not have 4 corners. It is an oblong spheroid.

        December 24, 2013 at 10:49 am |
      • Hook, Line and Sinker

        Zealots gonna zel. Just as true in the 3rd century...

        December 24, 2013 at 10:50 am |
    • sam stone

      jen: sin is a man made concept and does exist outside the minds of believers

      it is a hoax designed to fool the gullible

      December 24, 2013 at 10:33 am |
      • Jen

        So if I murdered you or your family it's purely a hoax? It must be hard living in the dark; come out.

        December 24, 2013 at 7:47 pm |
    • Religion is the cause of and non-solution to all problems

      Please stop. Even as an atheist I can see he's the best thing to happen to your skygod loving fools in about 50 years.

      December 24, 2013 at 10:29 am |
  10. Jesus Christ Son of God

    The pope is just a mortal leading sheeple who believe there is a god. Believe in Santa, he brings presents.

    December 24, 2013 at 10:26 am |
    • RG

      Isn't a sheeple what they call an android fanboy?

      December 24, 2013 at 10:30 am |
    • Smarter than thou

      He's leading more effectively than Obama, so it's a nice start.

      December 24, 2013 at 10:27 am |
      • In Santa we trust

        The pope doesn't have a congress set on prevention.

        December 24, 2013 at 10:56 am |
  11. rdg18

    God said that He was the same yesterday, today and forever. To bad the pope is not on the same page as God.

    December 24, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • George

      To bad that you old folks are having a learn about what God is really about, not your old bigotry and hatred.

      December 24, 2013 at 10:44 am |
    • Ray

      What page is God on? I'd really like to know once you come down from that mountain top.

      December 24, 2013 at 10:35 am |
    • Smarter than thou

      Myths can't actually speak, sir.

      December 24, 2013 at 10:24 am |
      • RG

        Why don't you ask Him

        December 24, 2013 at 10:31 am |
        • sam stone

          you would just be talking to yourself and attibuting it to god

          December 24, 2013 at 10:38 am |
        • RG

          I'm sure you got an answer but you didn't listen

          December 24, 2013 at 10:38 am |
        • Religion is the cause of and non-solution to all problems

          I have. "He" never called back.

          December 24, 2013 at 10:33 am |
        • Lucifer's Evil Twin

          Good luck with that idiocy

          December 24, 2013 at 10:34 am |
  12. Michael Mentges

    As a lifelong Catholic I am not a fan of this Pope. Cant put my finger on it but when the Media loves him there is something that people like me cannot trust about him.

    December 24, 2013 at 10:22 am |
    • Religion is the cause of and non-solution to all problems

      Adjust your tinfoil hat, sir. He's been a better ambassador to your hokey religion than anyone in the last half century.

      December 24, 2013 at 10:32 am |
    • Phillip

      I'm a Jew and I can tell you this man is more of an example of what I read about your Jesus than the majority of Christians – including yourself.

      Why not nail yourself on a cross for a change accepting your own faults rather than always looking for someone to save you from yourself.

      December 24, 2013 at 10:31 am |
  13. ImvotingforHillary

    So basically he is preaching socialism and is loved by Americans.

    December 24, 2013 at 10:21 am |
    • Patrick in Wisconsin

      News flash, Jesus was a socialist.

      December 24, 2013 at 11:00 am |
    • RG

      You are confusing politics with spiritualism

      December 24, 2013 at 10:33 am |
  14. Smarter than thou

    I REALLY like this Pope. He represents all that's good in the Christian trdition. I think he's good for organized religion as a whole, and exactly what this world needs in terms of being a somewhat more modernized religious leader. However, there's still no skygod, and religion at the end of the day is still based on myths. But if this guy motivates people to be forces for good in this world, excellent!

    December 24, 2013 at 10:21 am |
    • TSRVT

      Very well put. I am with you 100%.

      December 24, 2013 at 10:59 am |
  15. Realist

    I like this pope, and I'm not even catholic. Anyone Rush Limbaugh hates is OK in my book, Limbaugh a total Dbag

    December 24, 2013 at 10:21 am |
  16. liamconnaughton

    Hell, why don't you Novus Ordos make him a saint now? Why wait till the man dies?

    December 24, 2013 at 10:16 am |
  17. Name*John

    Oh pleeese news media, what has he done to earn such high praise?? He gave a couple good speeches and said some comments that liberals love. This is how Obama started, lots of praise and hoopla from the media without an ounce of delivery or any substance and a Nobel prize that wasn't earned.

    December 24, 2013 at 10:14 am |
    • igaftr

      Obama didn't "start" by getting a Nobel Prize. It took many years of work to get to that point. I agree, he was far less qualified than others, but no one starts at Nobel prize.

      December 24, 2013 at 10:25 am |
  18. waitnonasunnyday

    CNN and Obama...the "masters" of propaganda. Now latching onto the Pope to sell their politics. Nothing good can ever come from having Religion in Politics. Religion is a private matter, get it out of Politics and Keep it Out!!!

    December 24, 2013 at 10:13 am |
    • Patrick in Wisconsin

      Nice thought, as if it made any sense at all.

      December 24, 2013 at 10:58 am |
  19. Free Holiday Nuts

    If I saw a little girl being raped, I would try to help stop it. That's the different between me and your God.

    December 24, 2013 at 10:12 am |
    • igaftr

      The bible teaches you that the ra.pist need only give her father 50 sheckles of silver and marry her, and it will make it OK.

      December 24, 2013 at 10:47 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.