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. Free Holiday Nuts


    December 24, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
    • joedude45

      Hinn is a fake

      December 24, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      Please stop posting videos of these retards...

      December 24, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
  2. Phil



    I have a neighbour who insists on working on the Sabbath.

    Exodus 35:2. Clearly states he should be put to death.

    Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

    December 24, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
    • guest

      If our country were a theocracy you could. Give this pope time and he will try to make it a theocracy led by the Vatican. Unfortunately too many people do not recognize what a con-artist this pope is. He is a Jesuit and Jesuits still have their agenda: to rule the world. Plan: win the hearts of the people and then take over, with force if necessary for those who resist.

      December 24, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
    • Candiano

      Let's ask Live4Him. She seems to be the resident expert on who may work on what days.

      December 24, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
      • niknak

        She is also expert witness to who needs to be stoned to death, why people commit suicide, when someone should go to a church, how often they should have s ex, and just about anything else she wants to stick her nose into other people's lives and tell them how they should live.
        You know, just like your average garden variety fundie xtian.

        December 24, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
        • Candiano

          She definitely needs more salt for her pretzel logic. Her thinking is quite twisted. My favorites were the UPC codes are the mark of Satan, and nobody but Christians deserve a day off.

          December 24, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
    • fools

      just give the pope cash,, you'll then be forgiven.

      Indulgences and money laundering is the vatican way.

      December 24, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
      • Timothy Tebow - God's REAL FAVORITE son

        Just get into therapy already.

        December 24, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
        • Fatima

          there was nothing inaccurate about that post.

          December 24, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
    • Timothy Tebow - God's REAL FAVORITE son

      Please stop ripping off the West Wing.

      December 24, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      Ask the police to do it... I want to see what happens

      December 24, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
    • Free Holiday Nuts

      Another tough one – better ask the duck man.

      December 24, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
      • rl

        Great answer.

        December 24, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
  3. Timothy Tebow - God's REAL FAVORITE son

    I hope someone at the Vatican will see "fools" posts and help him get the counseling he so desperately needs.

    December 24, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • God

      I post names of priest, bishops and cardinals on other sites.

      December 24, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
      • really hard

        post the filthy ones here. Oh,, it's all of them. They all knew the cover ups and did nothing. This pope included.


        December 24, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
  4. fools

    hey, if the death penalty were against the law, christianity wouldn't have made it

    December 24, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
  5. NotApproved

    Jesus stated the true religion was likened to a narrow and cramped road. The way would be difficult and few would find it. So wwho's approval should the Pope really be interested in. From the looks of things he's just playing the popularity contest game.

    December 24, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
  6. Jamie Estevez

    He's not a politician. It doesn't matter what his approval rating is. There are no re-election campaigns for Pope.

    December 24, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
    • me

      Actually Pope IS a politician, he's the president of the Vatican state.

      December 24, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
  7. niknak

    Imagine how high his ratings would be if he told everyone to actually follow Jeebus' teachings and actually love their fellow man, and give their excess money to help the poor.
    Oh wait, if he did that they would string him us just like they did Jeebus, so that ain't gonna happen.

    December 24, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • doobzz

      Or maybe he could lead by example and start selling off some of the Vatican's vast wealth to give to the poor and the thousands of children abused by his priests.

      Instead, he poses for pretty photos and everyone shits themselves.

      December 24, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
      • niknak

        That would definitely get his strung up as the various corporate religions will never part with their goodies to aid anyone but themselves.

        December 24, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
        • doobzz

          Of course it would. That wasn't my point.

          My point was that he is doing nothing more than catering to the masses and posing for nice pictures. He's a puppet pope, there to quell the tide of outrage against the RCC's conspiracy to cover up child abuse in their ranks.

          Until he does something more than make nice sounding speeches and photo ops, there's been no change at the Vatican at all.

          December 24, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
  8. smartaz

    If a religious leader is well-liked, he is probably doing something wrong.

    December 24, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • joedude45

      Has this Pope been caught molesting children yet? they do a good job of covering it up so you'll probably never know about it , don't let the Pope handle your child he's gay!

      December 24, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
  9. Mary

    I do really hope that the Pope is what he preaches. But who knows?

    December 24, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • Randall

      He doesn't just preach humility he lives it. Thats different than most Popes and all GOP politicians. Whenever you talk about humility and helping the poor Republican's immediately shout Socialism. But when you talk about cutting the billions in subsidies the oil industry gets they wax eloquent on the virtues of capitalism. GOP's definition of capitalism is when large multi national corporations getting subsidies from the U. S. Treasury. GOP's definition of socialism is when individuals receive subsidies from the U. S. Treasury.

      December 24, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
    • Timothy Tebow - God's REAL FAVORITE son

      He's been the Pope for less than a year. How about you give the guy a chance before all the fretting and wondering?

      December 24, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  10. markdsweet

    Leading by example, charity, compassion for his fellow human beings, it is a shame the vast majority of politicians in this country do not share the same character as this man.

    December 24, 2013 at 11:59 am |
    • fools

      it's sad the vatican markets that way,, Then again, this pope and vatican need to deflect away from children suffering today due to the abuse cover ups

      December 24, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
      • james

        not such a fool you are.

        December 24, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
  11. Phil


    My uncle has a farm.

    He violates Leviticus 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend).

    He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot.

    Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? (Leviticus 24:10-16)

    Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Leviticus 20:14)

    December 24, 2013 at 11:59 am |
    • Free Holiday Nuts

      That's a tough one. Ask the duck man.

      December 24, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • eddie too

      are you jewish? if so, you should already know the answer to your question. if you are not, what makes you obsess over jewish laws?

      December 24, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
  12. Reality # 2

    Again, Francis will fail unless he addresses the crumbling historical and theological foundations of the RCC to include the Xmas con. (see p. 1 of the comments for added details)

    December 24, 2013 at 11:59 am |
    • fools

      and is held accountable for the child abuse cover ups

      December 24, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
  13. fools

    It's nice to see the priests here posting as atheist, single mom, former catholic, baptist,, etc..

    they sure know how to deceive. Ever see them wandering nursing homes looking to catch inheritance money.

    The pope and vatican train them well.

    December 24, 2013 at 11:56 am |
    • linda sheridan

      I too, am a atheist and recovering Catholic. This Pope is amazing. If all the Catholics I know were like this Pope in their beliefs the world would be a better place. And, also, to the person posting about voting, I don't know a single practicing Catholic who votes Democratic. They vote Republican because of the abortion issue. Period.

      December 24, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • Timothy Tebow - God's REAL FAVORITE son

      Please seek psychological help, sir. Good luck to you.

      December 24, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      I think you may have some psychological issues... also, an annoying habit of constantly repeating the same thing over and over again.

      December 24, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
  14. Lula

    This Pope is doing what Jesus taught us to do.. visit the sick.. help the poor. Jesus was also hated by the elite for talking to the sinners and trying to teach them the truth about God.. people all have their own ways to try and reach out.. this Pope has his ways others have there's.. no one way is right or wrong..

    December 24, 2013 at 11:56 am |
    • fools

      and destroy children..

      December 24, 2013 at 11:58 am |
  15. Aerin

    I love this Pope. Signed, Atheist.

    December 24, 2013 at 11:53 am |
    • fools

      OK priest

      December 24, 2013 at 11:55 am |
  16. Sunnysmom

    I'm not Catholic nor a practicing religious person, but I LOVE this man. He makes me want to get back into church if I could find one that mirrored his lead.

    December 24, 2013 at 11:51 am |
    • fools

      OK priest

      December 24, 2013 at 11:53 am |

    It's pretty hard to disapprove of a man who humbles himself before others, leads by the example that was taught to him by reading the New Testament, and attempts to guide his lost church to a new era. I'm not Catholic but it's great to see genuine Christianity in the church's leader.

    December 24, 2013 at 11:47 am |
    • heather

      I might like some of his take on the NT based on his example. But sadly, the NT is used too much for judgment and hate these days.

      December 24, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • fools

      he sure denies small children abused.

      December 24, 2013 at 11:53 am |
    • Timothy Tebow - God's REAL FAVORITE son

      He's been quite good for the Catholic church thus far.

      December 24, 2013 at 11:49 am |
  18. Teapublican Taliban Klan HATER

    Ole Rush better watch his P's and Q's. The Pope might just perform a (very needed) exorcism on him and his two testicle's Cruz and Palin.

    December 24, 2013 at 11:45 am |
    • fools

      naw,, pope and rush are quite the same,, both con men

      December 24, 2013 at 11:59 am |
      • Teapublican Taliban Klan HATER

        I'm with you on the Religion thing but I think the Pope is the far better man.

        December 24, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
  19. Free Holiday Nuts


    December 24, 2013 at 11:45 am |
  20. Louie

    Go ahead, Neo-Cons, keep bashing an extremely popular Pope who just happens to have a large number of the coveted Latino voting population adoring him.

    December 24, 2013 at 11:44 am |
    • js_biggs

      You do realize that the new testament makes priests obsolete, right?

      December 24, 2013 at 11:53 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.