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. MightyMoo

    This Pope appears to be on the right track more then most people in this world. I wish him the best cause he appears to be a rare and sorely lacking breed among humans these days.

    December 24, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
    • Got


      December 24, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
    • AAmir Khan

      Anybody checked Rush Limbaugh's approval rating? I mean the Pope obviously has friends in high places, so no biggie.

      December 24, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
      • Oh noes

        Who cares? Limbaugh panders to a low information base of morons.

        December 24, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
  2. Lou

    I would like him even more if he didn't need a deity to teach human compassion....

    December 24, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
    • tony

      Absolutely the point that the theists miss.

      December 24, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
    • One one

      The problem is for religions, without gods, miracles, and magic they have nothing unique to offer. The existence of a god is the foundation of their business model.

      December 24, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      well said!

      December 24, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
    • JJ

      Agreed. In the meantime, thousands of atheist philanthropists quietly go about the business of caring for their fellow man.

      December 24, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
      • Mtippets

        God offers something some are missing HOPE

        December 24, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
        • One one

          Hope for what ?

          December 24, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
  3. Dyslexic doG

    You mean to tell me,
    that a Jewish zombie can make me live forever,
    if I telepathically accept him as my master…
    all because a talking snake convinced a woman created by one rib
    to eat from a magical tree?

    - Rainer Braendlein

    December 24, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
    • truth

      religion is so much more then that, its the feeling inside knowing that there is something there to get you through your tough times and a certain peace that can come over you when you're feeling down, its everything good in this world not "magic"
      educate yourself.

      December 24, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
      • Lucifer's Evil Twin

        You say all that dumb crap about religion, but then say "educate yourself" That's hilarious...

        December 24, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
      • One one

        But isn't the source of that peaceful feeling the belief that no matter what happens in life, you will ultimately live forever in paradise after you die? In fact the foundation of Christianity boils down to if you believe you go to heaven, if you don't, you go to hell. Sure, there are other elements, but those are just accessories to the core doctrine.

        December 24, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
  4. tony

    Like the man, disbelieve his religion.

    December 24, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
  5. Larry Hass

    He's right about the worship of money, neglect of the poor, and damage done the middle class by out of control capitalism. When you have Rush Limburger for a critic you are doing the right thing for sure:)

    December 24, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
  6. Doris

    To the theist – what kind of theist are you?

    Are you the kind who stays quiet while people who don't believe as you do are being jailed by your fellow Christians in other countries?

    Are you that kind?

    December 24, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
    • Theist

      They're Christians in self proclaimed name only.

      December 24, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
      • Charm Quark

        Pretty hard to take Christians seriously when they can't even decide amongst the sects what a Christian really is. My interpretation of the bullsh!t is more elegant than yours is, so there, you are not a true believer like me. What nonsense.

        December 24, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
  7. Doris

    To the theist – what kind of theist are you?

    -the kind of Lutheran who still officially categorizes the Pope as the Antichrist?

    -the kind of Catholic who helps spread disease (because of the unrealistic stance on contraception)?

    -one who would rather me let my sick child die rather than seek medical care?

    -one of the SBC members who expect women to strap on an apron and keep quiet?

    -one that follows the sect in Mexico that still sacrifices people?

    -one that believes the OT is superseded by the NT?

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

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

    -one that believes Americans are being killed at war because America is tolerant of homosexuals?

    What kind are you?

    December 24, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
    • conoclast

      I'm the Rattlesnakes-for-jesus kind. His pet serpents are holier than thou; they doth not bite the cleansed - or something like that. Or maybe the "God Hates You" kind from Westboro Babdist - to offset the "God Is Love" we all learned in Sunday School.
      What we can truly bet on is that they're all the gimme-your-money kind!

      December 24, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
      • Charm Quark

        Yep, good point, have yet to hear a religious leader/scam artist say to the sheepies, "Listen up folks we have way more money than we need so don't bother with offerings."

        December 24, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
    • DustyOnes

      The one that laughs at atheist.

      December 24, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
    • One one

      Perhaps the different sects should be rated according to which offers the best deal in heaven.

      December 24, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • Day

      What kind of atheist am i?

      December 24, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
      • in Santa we doG

        I'm the kind that knows there is no god. And I hate him!

        December 24, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
  8. DustyOnes

    Merry Christmas...

    To the Atheist, get to work on time and don't forget to ask the customer if they want fries and a drink.

    December 24, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
    • igaftr

      Actually I'll be running some experiments in my lab, but thanks.

      December 24, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
    • Observer


      To you and fellow Christians: Keep praising the Magi for bringing incense to baby Jesus. God said incense is an abomination and the HYPOCRISY is a riot.

      December 24, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      infantile slave mind

      December 24, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
    • sly

      ... rather amusing comment there Dusty, considering the vast majority of highly educated (college and graduate degrees) are athiests. I believe the number is around 95% of all scientists are athiests. Similar numbers of highly educated vote for progressive democrats as well.

      Throughout history, it is the uneducated who typically are the religious followers.

      I'm not trying to judge anyone, just pointing out the facts son...

      December 24, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
      • DustyOnes

        Is that why the Father of the Big Bang Theory (no pun intended) is a Catholic Priest? Fr. Georges Lamaitre.

        Don't believe all those atheist web sites. You really are stupid.

        Merry Christmas....

        December 24, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
        • Lucifer's Evil Twin

          No one is perfect

          December 24, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
        • sly

          It is always nice when someone immediately illustrates one of my statements.

          Thank you Dusty for confirming that intelligence is not often a criteria for being a religious folk ....

          December 24, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
    • DustyOnes refers to his brain

      Betcha belong to the TP too.

      December 24, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
    • Charm Quark

      I think only Christians are allowed to work at Chick-fil-A and Tyson foods.

      December 24, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
    • sam stone

      still on your knees, begging for forgiveness?

      good for you. jeebus wants you that way

      December 24, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
    • doobzz

      To Dusty,

      Time all you Christians to go to Walmart for Colt 45 malt liquor, six boxes of shotgun shells, fourteen boxes of Pampers, a case of Cheetos and seven cans of squirtable cheese for Christmas dinner. Don't forget to take your food stamps.

      See how easy it is to spew out stereotypes instead of formulating an intelligent comment?

      December 24, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
  9. bacbik

    Has this pope said anything yet about what's going on in Uganda, with its 84% Christianity?

    December 24, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
    • doobzz

      He's too busy posing for pictures so we can all see how humble he is.

      December 24, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
  10. Bootyfunk

    the pope said a few nice, if ambiguous, words. but what has he actually done? he seems to be getting a lot of credit without actually doing anything. he seems like a nice guy, but he hasn't changed church dogma or doctrine. so what has the pope actually done?

    December 24, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
    • So...

      Say the Pope does everything on your list of things... What would you have you have to complain about? Oh, I know. He believes in God. Your back-up bitch plan.

      December 24, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
      • Bootyfunk

        you sound angry. and you're wrong. i believe in giving credit where it's due - he just doesn't have any due. try answering the question instead of dodging. so.... what has the pope actually done?

        December 24, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
    • JJ

      I just can't believe how many people are falling for this PR. The RCC is the best at these things. They've been doing it for 2000 years.

      December 24, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
      • That time of year

        agreed.. an now this one gets away with crimes against children

        December 24, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
    • doobzz

      Oh, c'mon, Booty. He hugged a deformed guy and had one of his aides drag a few homeless guys in for pancakes before dumping them back into the ghetto. Didn't you see the pretty pictures?

      December 24, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
  11. sly

    "Approval rating" for a Pope? Ho ho ho - it's kinda like a viewer rating for the Super Bowl.

    What a laugh – although usually the dudes that the religious folks pick seem to be old an pretty much dead. This one seems to have a bit more life ...

    I find religion to be quite amusing and brings out a lot of laughs ...

    December 24, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
    • doobzz

      I don't get the point either. His approval rating could be 0% and he'd still be pope for life.

      December 24, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
  12. Deez

    The Republicans need to wake up. They are now against the Pope. Really? Shouldn't that tell you something?

    December 24, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
    • Roger that

      Republicans are Bible Belt Protestants: Baptists, Methodists, Evangelicals etc...

      December 24, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
      • just wondering

        with a history of hate, bigotry, racism and religious hypocrisy....

        December 24, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
        • Roger that

          That was implied. I should be more direct.

          December 24, 2013 at 1:38 pm |

    The Guns Over People tea potty wingnuts greatly helped him by hatefully calling him a Marxist. They are as popular as herpes. 2014 comes quickly for them all.

    December 24, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
  14. Sara

    Rush Limbaugh apparently thinks Jesus was a Marxist too. If he thinks of himself as a Christian he must have never read the bible. Rich people were not portrayed well and it said that they would have a hard time going to heaven and Jesus was angry at those who cared more about money then people. Jesus was all about helping the poor. So it is ignorant to call the Pope a Marxist unless he thinks Jesus was a Marxist too. I really can't stand you Rush. On the other hand Pope Francis is my kind of Christian...an enlightened human being who is focusing on the right things...things that will help people rather than divide them. Hope his wisdom trickles down.

    December 24, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
    • Dan

      "my kind of Christian" – must be nice. You can modify Christianity to suit you? Thats so convenient. Sounds like cafeteria Christianity. Take only what you want.

      December 24, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
      • In Santa we trust

        Cafeteria christianity just about sums up christians – with thousands of different sects each different. Most use the parts of the OT that suits them.

        December 24, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
      • thats what the protestants did

        they chose christianity that best suits them, i don't see you railing against how Baptists, Calvanists and Lutherans see Christianity differently.

        December 24, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      The Vatican's resources are vast. Its wealth can't be calculated because they have so many priceless objects, much of it in storage – perhaps even they don't know what they have. This Pope should bring it all out in the light of day and use it to fight poverty in significant ways.

      December 24, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
      • Charm Quark

        And on top of that, other than governments, they hold the largest and most valuable real estate than any other corporation in the world. Even today they give aid in exchange for land, a good business practice that has worked for 2000 years.

        December 24, 2013 at 1:20 pm |
    • mike


      If you are of the world, the world will love you. However, if you are not of the world, the world will hate you.

      This is what Jesus said, and it has implications with regards to Pope Francis.

      To many people believe the Bible of their imagination, not the actual Bible

      December 24, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
      • igaftr

        except that the bible is the product of men's imaginations....

        December 24, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
        • tony

          Work breaks don't need to be based on historic holy days. Why do you people always inject religion where it's not needed?

          December 24, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
        • igaftr

          first, who are you people?, and second, as an atheist, I do not inject religion in anything, I reject them all.

          December 24, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
      • In Santa we trust

        Thousands of different christian sects each using the parts of the OT that suits them because of their own interpretation. Someone called it cafeteria christianity.

        December 24, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
      • Charm Quark

        Do you believe in magic, you have too to believe that the bible is the word of god, it isn't just a historical fiction novel/tome.

        December 24, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
  15. Scott Edward Vines

    Jesus told him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. John 14:6

    The Pope does not teach this; therefore, he's not a Christian.

    If he were to die today, he would go straight to Hell. He is misleading millions. Outer darkness and the Lake of Fire are reserved for him if he doesn't repent.

    December 24, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
    • igaftr

      another no true scotsman fallacy.

      December 24, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
    • Jack

      As a Christian you should be more focused on getting people to heaven then judging they will go to hell. Just my opinion.

      December 24, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
      • Scott Edward Vines

        I am not the Judge. The Holy Spirit is the Judge, and you blaspheme Him. I just told you how to get to heaven. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

        December 24, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
        • igaftr

          And you can't get to Valhalla unless you die in glorious battle...
          And you can get a special seat near Zeus on Mt. Olympus if you please Zeus...

          and other unfounded beliefs.

          December 24, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
        • Observer

          Scott Edward Vines,

          So what would you say to the BILLIONS of people who died without hearing of Jesus or God? "Tough luck that you ended up in hell"?

          December 24, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
        • Scott Edward Vines


          God is just. God is love. Therefore, those who've never heard of Jesus will be judged fairly and lovingly, and whenever they go to Heaven, it will still be through Him. If someone is truly seeking forgiveness of person sins from the Creator, He will grant that forgiveness because Christ paid for sin once for all. YOU'VE heard of Jesus; therefore, the question you should be asking is, "What AM I going to do with Him today?"

          December 24, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
        • Scott Edward Vines


          God is just. God is love. Therefore, those who've never heard of Jesus will be judged fairly and lovingly, and whenever they go to Heaven, it will still be through Him. If someone is truly seeking forgiveness of personal sins from the Creator, He will grant that forgiveness because Christ paid for sin once for all. YOU'VE heard of Jesus; therefore, the question you should be asking is, "What AM I going to do with Him today?"

          December 24, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
        • Observer

          Scott Edward Vines,

          Where does the Bible say that you don't need to believe in God nor Jesus to get to heaven?

          December 24, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
    • Lionly Lamb

      Are we being a wee bit judgmental..?

      December 24, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
    • Dave

      Matthew 16 13-20 gave authority of running the Church in the absence of Jesus. It was passed down from Simon Peter to his predecessors which are named Pope. Just a little Catholic history for you.

      December 24, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
  16. Socrates

    He is a very good man but so far it is only talking. The church is still against abortion, gays and lesbians, divorce, etc. etc. Let's see changes.

    December 24, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      He has already begun replacing bishops in the Curia, an effort that will hugely push forward reforms, and reshape the Church for decades to come. He hasn't trumpeted his actions, but that seems to be part of his style. Nonetheless, reform is underway.

      If your idea of reform is to change the Church into a secular, atheist organization, however, that's just silly.

      December 24, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
      • doobzz

        "He hasn't trumpeted his actions, but that seems to be part of his style"

        You mean like when he didn't pose for pictures hugging a deformed man and he didn't pose for pictures with four homeless men dragged in to have birthday breakfast with him before being hustled back out to the ghetto?

        Look at meeeee! I'm humble!!!!!!

        December 24, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
  17. Raleigh Wood

    In comments likely to enhance his progressive reputation, Pope Francis has written, "non-believers would be forgiven by God if they followed their consciences."...... SERIOUSLY ?

    December 24, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
  18. 8eity

    I do not care what the pope is or does. I am atheist.

    December 24, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      Many of his actions and admonitions are extremely admirable, and as an atheist myself I cannot find fault with them. I would, in fact, encourage many of them.

      The Pope and I are never going to see eye to eye on a wide range of issues. But I can respect someone who walks the walk, and who seeks to help his fellow man within the framework of his own beliefs. There are very many I cannot say as much for.

      December 24, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
    • JJ

      You should still care since he's the head of the most deadly, corrupt vile pedophile infested cult of all time which has destroyed countless lives and cultures.

      December 24, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
    • Scott Edward Vines

      But you care enough to waste your time posing here about something and someone you don't care about.

      December 24, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
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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.