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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. Nug

    For those mean people out there, please remember it's Christmas Eve. You don't need to criticize anyone and you certainly don't have to put everything under the endless political- theological microscope. If you can't say something nice..... If anybody needs help out there, something that they need others to pray for please let me know I will remember you with prayers tonight at Mass when the priest raises the chalice. Merry Christmas!

    December 24, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • tony

      Especially at Chritmas, good men stand by distracted by warm fuzzy thoughts, while "evil" carries on, regardless of the date.

      December 24, 2013 at 11:02 am |
    • fools

      abused children suffering today because of the abuse cover ups? How awful your post,, rather selfish.

      December 24, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • HotAirAce

      To the majority of people on the planet, today and tomorrow are just normal days. To some, they're two more days of coverup.

      December 24, 2013 at 11:29 am |
  2. Doris

    As astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson explains in his talk The Perimeter of Ignorance, throughout history many of the great minds give virtually no mention to any god for their discoveries and explanations. (Ptolemy, Isaac Newton, Laplace, Huygens, Galileo.) That is, until they reach the problem they feel they cannot and will never fully tackle.

    Perhaps that is all God has ever been – a placeholder for discomfort or frustration over the unknown; an excuse of last resort when, for one reason or another, one gives up investigation. It is at that point of discomfort over the unknown when one should remember what humanity has already witnessed: that today's scientific explanations were often yesterday's gods.

    What is the effect when man relies solely on his gap-filling gods? Consider this:

    Two-thirds of star names have Arabic names. They came from Islam's fertile period (AD 800-1100.) During that time Baghdad was the intellectual center of the world, open to people of all or no faiths. During that time were some of the greatest advances known to mankind: engineering, biology, medicine, mathematics, celestial navigation; this is the time and place that gave us numerals we use, terms like algebra and algorithm.

    Enter Imam Hamid al-Ghazali in the 12th century. The fundamentally religious period of Islam begins, and so begins the steady decline of free intellectual expression in that area of the world. Some would argue that it has since never recovered.

    Of course the effects of such reliance touches us today – even in the U.S. We see some who refuse medical care for their children for instance.

    "[If] the nature of... government [were] a subordination of the civil to the ecclesiastical power, I [would] consider it as desperate for long years to come. Their steady habits [will] exclude the advances of information, and they [will] seem exactly where they [have always been]. And there [the] clergy will always keep them if they can. [They] will follow the bark of liberty only by the help of a tow-rope." –Thomas Jefferson

    December 24, 2013 at 10:58 am |
    • tony

      See below. Religions rarely produce "good" leaders. This guy is either brillaint at PR, or a "miraculous" rare exception.

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

        Are you talking about Jefferson? Remember that he was influenced by Deism.

        December 24, 2013 at 11:04 am |
        • tony

          I think Jefferson would qualify as a rare person in an average crowd.

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

        Good leaders are rare. Period. If they were rare simply in religious circles, we would see a higher percentage of good leaders from the atheist camp. Religious or not, we all have the capacity for compassion and decent behavior. Some rely on their faith to resist the temptation to put yourself first or to become too overly attached to material possessions. Others no doubt rely on some other moral code to guide them to the same conclusion. I think we make too much of the differences between us and too little of the similarities. I have no problem with anyone else's beliefs (or non-beliefs). I don't care about what you profess to believe. I care how that belief is expressed in what you do. There are good and bad religious people. There are good and bad atheists. A little respect towards one another and the affirmation of the right of every person to choose their own religious/spiritual path (or to reject it) would go a long way. I have no patience for those on either side who insist that they are right. We do not know that there is a God. We do not know that there is not a God. Anyone who claims otherwise is dishonest. We either choose to step out in faith or we choose to disbelieve because we cannot believe without scientific proof. Either path is fine as long as you act like a decent human being.

        December 24, 2013 at 11:36 am |
  3. tony

    What a pity we have to have religion and huge churches in order to get an actually good guy into a leadership and influential role.

    Shows up the US Political system as the equivalent of a c+ss pool with the lightest dregs floating to the top.

    December 24, 2013 at 10:57 am |
  4. Blue Dog

    Well, he's still a Marxist. – Rush

    December 24, 2013 at 10:56 am |
    • davis@bwana.endjunk.com

      A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.

      December 24, 2013 at 11:32 am |
  5. Timothy Tebow - God's OTHER son

    Creflo Dollar, Joel Osteen and the like must HATE this guy.

    -Timmy Touchdown Tebow

    December 24, 2013 at 10:56 am |
  6. Jed Knight

    Pope Francis is a good man. He is spot-on every issue. Especially regarding Capitalism and its negative effects on humanity.

    December 24, 2013 at 10:56 am |
    • igaftr

      So you agree that he needs to continue to maintain the child abuse cover-up?

      December 24, 2013 at 10:59 am |
      • Jed Knight

        He's not covering up anything. Many priests have gone to jail for their crimes. Try harder.

        December 24, 2013 at 11:03 am |
        • igaftr

          That is not true. There has not been full disclosure by this or previous popes. The vatican knows the names of the offending priests and CONTINUE withholding the inforamtion.
          Until the pope comes forward with full disclosure, assistance in PROSECUTING both the offenders AND the ones who hid the offenders, it is not redirection, it is not deflection, it is CRIMINAL.

          This is a stain on the catholics (yet another HUGE stain) and until he comes forward, he is just as guilty.

          December 24, 2013 at 11:20 am |
      • ForTimesLikeThese

        Yes indeed. Excellent diversion tactics

        December 24, 2013 at 11:11 am |
  7. FML

    the top papa sounds more like Che than Jesus. Che was a failure. Jesus lives on.

    December 24, 2013 at 10:53 am |
    • Timothy Tebow - God's OTHER son

      Only in your dreams does he live. He's halfway to fossildom by now in reality.

      December 24, 2013 at 10:57 am |
    • Jed Knight

      What a careless and callous thing to say. Did you miss the part where he said Marxist ideology was wrong?

      Comparing this good man to a murderer like Che makes you look like a freaking retard.

      December 24, 2013 at 11:01 am |
      • tony

        Shoot first, discover afterwards. Remind me to keep my children away from you.

        December 24, 2013 at 11:09 am |
    • David Rutledge

      Che was not a failure – he was a victim of our very own CIA – which generally despises anything which smacks of helping the poor = 'socialism, communism' – in other words, what Christ told us to do. Going about that task by violent means was a desperate approach – though in the 1960's, I'm not sure if there was much alternative. Maybe violence is the only way to get people's attention at times – which may show either how desperate the oppressed are; or how obtuse the rich and powerful are. Merry Christmas.

      December 24, 2013 at 11:04 am |
  8. MIddleway14

    I like this pope–not because he is Catholic or even religious (I am not a religious person). I like him, because as a human being, he is empathetic to others' situations and truly acts as a good, compassionate person would. A man's character and behavior are the most important things that need to be judged by others at the end of the day. While I don't believe in the Catholic church's (or any religion's) dogma, I know a good human being when I see one: and he is a good person.

    December 24, 2013 at 10:53 am |
  9. sundownr

    Who could not love this Pope. He is not only a lesson in humility, but in government as well. With leaders like Pope Francis we can surely improve our planet. I thank Pope Francis for this.

    December 24, 2013 at 10:47 am |
    • tony

      What a pity we have to have religion and huge churches in order to get an actually good guy into a leadership and influential role.

      Shows up the US Political system as the equivalent of a cess pool with the lightest dregs floating to the top.

      December 24, 2013 at 10:56 am |
  10. Free Holiday Nuts

    "His Holiness recalled that since the earliest days of her presence in Canada, the Church, particularly through her missionary personnel, has closely accompanied the indigenous peoples. Given the sufferings that some indigenous children experienced in the Canadian Residential School system, the Holy Father expressed his sorrow at the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of some members of the Church and he offered his sympathy and prayerful solidarity."

    –from a 2009 Vatican apology

    (Someone had mentioned the "Christian tradition"

    December 24, 2013 at 10:45 am |
    • RG

      It doesn't sound like you're freeing yourself from holidays

      December 24, 2013 at 10:48 am |
  11. Ray

    He's popular because he's the real deal. Jesus never spoke about gay marriage or abortion. He did have a ton to say about poverty, injustice, and humility though. This pope has done nothing but exemplify those attributes of Christ. The very attributes that everyone can admire and respect, even a non-Christian such as myself.

    December 24, 2013 at 10:42 am |
    • patrick

      Jesus also said if you look at a woman in lust you have already committed adultery in your heart. I don't think he was indifferent to immorality

      December 24, 2013 at 10:56 am |
    • Critical Thinker

      What did Jesus think about marriage? Matthew 19 4-5.
      No, Jesus wasn't into gay marriage.

      December 24, 2013 at 10:56 am |
  12. George

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

    December 24, 2013 at 10:39 am |
  13. 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 |
  14. 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 |
  15. 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 |
  16. 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 |
  17. 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 |
    • RG

      You're fake

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

      Dumbo is the s***t

      December 24, 2013 at 10:55 am |
  18. 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 |
  19. 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 |
      • Jen

        Good spotting:)

        December 24, 2013 at 10:31 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 |
        • Well duh

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

          December 24, 2013 at 10:36 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 |
        • 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 |
  20. 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 |
    • 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 |
    • 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 |
    • HARLOT OF BABYLON

      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 |
    • 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 |
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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.