December 24th, 2013
06:00 AM ET

CNN Poll: Pope's approval rating sky-high

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
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(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 Religion 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. Prudence

    Homeless men-what does that tell you?

    December 24, 2013 at 7:48 am |
    • fools

      a wealthy empire.. gold, stocks,,

      December 24, 2013 at 7:49 am |
    • mark

      That you're an ass too!!!

      December 24, 2013 at 8:41 am |
  2. Bilbo

    Yet when Jesus preached...they killed him. Hmmmm

    December 24, 2013 at 7:46 am |
    • Charm Quark

      By they killed him, you mean on god the father's orders they him killed, god put out the hit, the ultimate abusive father. Such an unbelievable story, Happy Winter Solstice and Happy Holidays.

      December 24, 2013 at 8:43 am |
      • mike

        Charm, not sure where you get the idea that Jesus was killed on God's orders. Not the case at all. Happy merry everything (I'm raised Christian but I know damn well the vast majority of Christmas traditions have nothing to do with Christianity).

        December 24, 2013 at 11:34 am |
      • southerncelt

        Mr. Quark and Mr. Hobbit,
        Jesus was not killed, He sacrificed Himself to expiate our (yours and mine) sins once and forever. The Romans and their henchman were just unwitting pawns. He even forgave them as He died. Kindness and Forgiveness go much farther than hate and recrimination as many at this site should remember.

        December 24, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
        • G to the T

          So you agree that Judas and the Jews were blameless? After all, they were just ensuring that god's will would come to pass correct?

          December 26, 2013 at 9:47 am |
    • Ray

      The religious elite killed him, not the masses. The people loved him. So your comparison fails.

      December 24, 2013 at 11:24 am |
      • G to the T

        The crowd called for Barabus, not Jesus. Doesn't sound like he was that popular at with "the people" after all.

        December 26, 2013 at 9:49 am |
  3. Science Works

    Well according to the Harris Poll the pope /god is what ?

    Americans' Belief in God, Miracles and Heaven Declines
    Belief in Darwin's theory of evolution rises


    December 24, 2013 at 7:46 am |
    • Aj

      Careful on the describing a group. The Catholic Church isn't like the Protestant Church. It allows for the belief in Evolution. In fact a priest Fr. LeMitre proposed the foundation of what we know as the Big Bang theory. The Church doesn't define how God made us... Just that he made us. Not to interested in how.

      December 24, 2013 at 8:12 am |
    • four_two

      Arrogant tools like you always give a good laugh, lol. Thanks for that.

      December 24, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
  4. John

    I'm not saying I agree or disagree with anything in this article. However, statistics can be horribly misused. 191 Catholics were polled and therefore 88% of American Catholics approve of Pope Francis? Really? Here in my office I polled both my co-worker and myself and Pope Francis only had a 50% approval rating.

    December 24, 2013 at 7:45 am |
    • Bilbo

      Good one.

      December 24, 2013 at 7:47 am |
    • fools

      and 50% is high among the delusional who ignore the children abused

      December 24, 2013 at 7:51 am |
      • Gol

        And where do you get that anyone is ignoring child abuse?

        December 24, 2013 at 8:00 am |
        • Science Works

          It took COURT ORDERS for the names of the pedo – priests the RCC has been moving around the planet for years !

          December 24, 2013 at 8:54 am |
      • George Kaplan

        Strange... considering we continue to have faith in other community leaders (teachers, for example) who are just as likely to abuse...

        December 24, 2013 at 8:08 am |
        • Joe

          Yeah, but the schools call the cops, where as the church just shipped the priests all over the country so that they could continue their crimes. There is a difference.

          December 27, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
    • mark

      Depends on where you live, if you live on either coast those numbers would be lower which would be expected. Other areas of the country those numbers are probably pretty accurate

      December 24, 2013 at 8:47 am |
  5. Jim

    wonder why there has never been a black pope, since jesus was black.

    December 24, 2013 at 7:21 am |
    • fools

      shhhhh,, the white supremacist, nazi's, tea party and KKK don't know that

      December 24, 2013 at 7:25 am |
      • Robert G

        Its not the right time of year for you to be spreading you liberal agenda of hate. Save it for next year.

        December 24, 2013 at 7:30 am |
        • fools

          I'm a conservative. I'm among the group that wants our party back and have been insulted with the likes of the tea party

          December 24, 2013 at 7:32 am |
    • Robert G

      Well the Pope isn't supposed to be a copy of Jesus.

      December 24, 2013 at 7:28 am |
    • Stateng

      Where do you get he was black? He was Hebrew so he would look like someone from Israel.

      December 24, 2013 at 7:33 am |
      • fools

        his roots were in northern africa,, he was very dark.

        December 24, 2013 at 7:36 am |
      • Bilbo

        Fools doesn't know what color he was...neither does anyone else...and who cares anyway.

        December 24, 2013 at 7:48 am |
        • Jim


          December 24, 2013 at 8:05 am |
    • southerncelt

      I was taught to judge people by their character, not their skin color. It's a shame you apparently didn't get the same lesson.

      December 24, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
  6. SixDegrees

    There's a lot to like about this man. Although the Pope and I are never going to come to agreement on a lot of things, I admire and respect him. He walks the walk.

    December 24, 2013 at 7:15 am |
  7. sergo jean

    He shall do the will of God.

    December 24, 2013 at 7:14 am |
  8. Elevendy-two

    I am not Catholic, but I really like this new Pope. He is much more engaged with the public than the last Pope was. He reminds me of John Paul II, out with the people and bringing people together. I hope he remains the Pope for a very long time. This world needs a good example and he's doing a good job as one!

    December 24, 2013 at 7:13 am |
  9. srcactus

    The nay sayers will be ignored because the mans actions out weigh words. Now, using this example we can really win by electing politicians based on actions not words.

    December 24, 2013 at 7:12 am |
  10. Ron Lane

    Before this Pope, when I thought of the catholic church the first thing came to mind was the abuse scandal. Now the first thing that comes to mind is that they have a pretty reasonable and likable leader. It probably helps that this Pope doesn't have a German accent. German accents automatically make me think of the Nazi's.

    December 24, 2013 at 7:06 am |
  11. optimist5

    Gee, a Pope who seems to be following the teachings of Jesus. What's up with that?

    December 24, 2013 at 7:02 am |
    • Pope Francis

      Jesus was a Jew

      December 24, 2013 at 7:03 am |
      • Chris

        Who said he wasn't??

        December 24, 2013 at 9:38 am |
  12. First Amendment

    Moderate fhis tucker

    December 24, 2013 at 7:00 am |
    • a_random_anon_01

      The First Amendment doesn't apply to private property, like this website. Why so socialist?

      December 24, 2013 at 10:34 am |
  13. Gol

    The Pope is kind of cool. Nothing wrong with that.

    December 24, 2013 at 6:53 am |
  14. jrvinnh

    There are a few of us atheists out here that are liking this pope as well. Especially the part where he has been speaking out against excessive income inequality and the evils of worshiping money.

    December 24, 2013 at 6:48 am |
    • VVVVV

      This atheist knows income inequality is irrelevant. We want lots of rich people. The problem worded in a non politically biased way, is what can we do to make the poor and middle class better off.

      December 24, 2013 at 6:57 am |
      • srcactus


        December 24, 2013 at 7:16 am |
  15. Pale Rider

    Im not a Catholic but this guy has brought out the evils we bring upon ourselves with the income in-equality going on today. Point out the fact that the divide between the very rich and the poor is getting bigger everyday. Politicians should be pointing this out but they are caught up in the greed themselves.

    December 24, 2013 at 6:43 am |
    • Chatm Quark

      The German Bishop that spent $41 million to tart up his digs while the diocese could only raise a few thousand for the Philippine disaster, shows where the priorities of the princes of the church actually are. Frankie has a lot of work to do to change the mindset of the corrupt leaders of the RCC.

      December 24, 2013 at 7:17 am |
  16. T

    ..............If the Tea Party followed this POPE............................................They would be Democrats.............

    December 24, 2013 at 6:42 am |
  17. Dave Green

    Good for him! I don't know what good it's doing the world, but better to be liked than hated I suppose.

    December 24, 2013 at 6:41 am |
  18. Stateng

    He has over twice the approval that Obama has. Maybe Obama should take lessons from this man.

    December 24, 2013 at 6:29 am |
    • Graham Kraker, Esq.

      Or maybe Obama should take the easier job that is being the Pope

      December 24, 2013 at 6:36 am |
  19. Dave

    Merry Christmas, Pope Francis and to everyone!

    December 24, 2013 at 6:26 am |
    • Corey

      Merry Christmas to you Dave!

      December 24, 2013 at 7:03 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.