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. Fish

    This man impresses me more every time I see him, so much humility and goodness and while I am not a religious person, I thank God for giving us this Pope!!! He could be what we've been waiting for, not another savior but a very good spiritual leader to guide us all to the garden of Eden!!!

    December 24, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
    • doobzz

      While he ignores thousands of children who were raped and abused by his priests, bishops and cardinals. No Garden of Eden for them!

      December 24, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
  2. Bribarian

    CNN likes this pope, so we can safely assume he's a bad guy.

    December 24, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
    • Maddy

      No, Limbaugh and Palin dislike him, so we can safely assume he threatens them in some way.

      December 24, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
  3. swohio

    Why is it suddenly the media is make a celebrity out of Pope Francis? The man can be admired to a degree, yes...and I see a lot of humility in him as well as genuine concern for the poor and disenfranchised. But every time I turn around, there's a new article singing his praises.

    He's not Jesus. He's just a servant. It's not his role to be a pinup boy for the church. It's his role to guide it and, if necessary, give his life for his beliefs. Perhaps it's time to take him down off the pedestal that most media outlets seem to be hoisting him upon recently.

    December 24, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
    • Joan

      No one thinks he is Jesus. He brings Christianity back to its roots and preaches a message that has long been forgotten. Since he became Pope, I have had friends who are agnostic come up and ask to learn more about Christianity. How can that be a bad thing if you believe in spreading the word of Christ?

      And who would the media replace him. Miley? Lindsay Lohan? (who are also just servants, BTW). I think it is great to see a decent man with a message of kindness and compassion as the media darling for a change.

      December 24, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
      • Lynnv

        Nicely said Joan

        December 24, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
  4. Mopery

    He's on the cover of Tiger Beat magazine, too...

    December 24, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • Happy Holidays

      He'll be on the cover of Madden 2014.

      December 24, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
  5. Sigh

    Pope, whoever you are keep on rocking! We need a fameless, nameless, fortuneless, voiceless (in other words a human being with no BRANDING goal, one who wants no STINKING CREDIT of any sort)! You just need enoough power to crush all these basdards calling themselves leaders, scholars, humanists, etc. of government, business and media in this sick world. Your resulting fairness towards ordinary human beings should be the proof of your courageous success! Till then don't give up!

    December 24, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
  6. romillerjr44

    I like and admire him – can't wait for the left to find out he opposes gay marriage, abortions, female priests and leads one of the world's biggest financial empires.

    December 24, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
    • happy

      Your sure about that? I think there are a lot of folks in tye pro-life movement who think otherwise.

      December 24, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
  7. T

    .This POPE has shown all of us that you CANNOT be a good Catholic, a good Christian, and support the tenets of the far right Tea Party. The teachings of CHRIST run against the Tea Party mantra.

    December 24, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
  8. pbernasc

    how surprising .. one starts using the brain and he get good ratings .. !

    December 24, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
  9. Teddy

    The best thing about this Pope is that all the atheist Ayn Rand worshipping Tea Partiers hate him. That's good enough for me.

    December 24, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
    • K-switch

      Well that's a demographic I was not aware of.

      December 24, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
      • Teddy

        They even spit on Mother Teresa..........no socialist hag is going to get any respect from the Teabists.

        December 24, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
        • PevanB

          How is it dealing the the fact that your mothers brother is your dad? What a completely asinine statement.

          December 24, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
        • doobzz

          Do a little research on Mother Teresa. She's not the saint that the media makes her out to be.

          December 24, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
    • brown

      You should check your facts. Atheists do not hate this Pope.

      December 24, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
      • Teddy

        Just the ones that make up the majority of the Tea Party. They much prefer Ayn Rand to lead the way.

        December 24, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
        • Maddy

          The TP isn't comprised of atheists. I would say that would trend more to libertarians.

          December 24, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
        • One one

          That's strange, I didn't know the tea party was full of atheists.

          December 24, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
  10. Ratified1791

    Just to rub it into the intolerant & incompetent faces of democrats!

    Governor Palin's job performance 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009
    ..................Highest = 93% ...........Lowest = 56%

    President Presents' job performance 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013
    ..................Highest = 69% ............Lowest = 38%

    Palin will always be better than Barrrack 'I didn't do it' Obumbles

    December 24, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
    • Maddy

      Remind me what Congress's approval rating again?

      December 24, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
      • Ratified1791

        Do you always have a reading comprehension disability? Is that covered under Oballah ShariaCare?

        December 24, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
        • Maddy

          No, and I asked you a direct question that you refuse to answer. I don't think cowardice is covered under the free market ACA, either, but you're welcome to look.

          December 24, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
        • Ratified1791

          Poor Maady......you need a straw with that argument!

          December 24, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
        • Maddy

          As do you,Rat. I believe your first reply to me would fall under the argument ad hominem fallacy.

          December 24, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
        • Ratified1791

          Poor Maady....you responded to me with a non-sequitur which is known as "...he folded to the arguement..."!

          December 24, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      I would welcome Palin as a candidate for president. Not vote for her, mind you, but she would be an excellent choice to run against just about anyone I'd care to vote for. Perhaps a Palin / Cruz ticket is too much to hope for.

      December 24, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
      • Keith

        I would love that ticket as well, the final nail in the coffin of the Republican Party.

        December 24, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
    • Maddy

      Remind me again of why she's not VP again?

      December 24, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
      • Ratified1791

        Governor Palin is not Vice President because The Candidate for President lost his bid for office.

        “..The truth of the matter is, Barack knows it, I know, had the economy not collapsed around your ears, John, ..I think you probably would have won..” - Joe Biden April 2013

        December 24, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
        • Maddy

          I think it is far more likely that McCain didn't win precisely because of his choice of VP.

          December 24, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
        • Frank Rizzo

          Google rhetorical question, fruitcake.

          December 24, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
        • Ratified1791

          Poor Maady, back to school once again...
          McCain/Palin surging: – Gallup 50%/46%, – CNN 47%/45%, – CBS 46%/44%,

          Sarah Palin doubles John McCain's fundraising – The McCain campaign raked in $10 million in 48hrs after selecting Governor Palin to be on the ticket

          Poor Frank Fruitcake, no he wasn't, he was avoiding the unassailable argument like a child.

          December 24, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
        • doobzz

          "The McCain campaign raked in $10 million in 48hrs after selecting Governor Palin to be on the ticket"

          Then she opened her mouth.

          December 24, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
    • Vlad

      So, if we translate these numbers into actual people, 680 thousand people at the most approved of Palin; 120.5 MILLION at the least approved of Obama. I guess that's why Palin now is a "has been."

      December 24, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
      • Ratified1791

        Poor Vlad, math challenged like your president present I see.

        "...Well, the math stuff I was fine with up until about seventh grade. But Malia is now a freshman in high school and I'm pretty lost..." – Barrack Obama, cash for clunker, stimulus, shariacare, solyndra, etc,etc.

        December 24, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
    • American666

      I applaud the Pope for his honesty and integrity; but more so for his humbleness. A humble man can get along with everyone. The Republicans need to understand that they are victims of their greed and vanity. At the end of the day, we are all as flawed and unworthy as the next American. It is only time and chance that separates us.

      Very soon, the internet will uplift the intelligence of the masses and incite an American Spring to take back our country from the plutocrats. Be afraid, be very afraid.......

      December 24, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
  11. four_two

    Regardless of what the know-it-alls say on both sides of the religion argument, this guy.......he's just a good guy.

    December 24, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
  12. Cal

    Who is this pope guy?

    December 24, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • Stan

      Some guy that the atheists love to talk about. Want to find atheists? Post a story about the Pope!

      December 24, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
  13. Conrad Putz

    The meek love Pope Francis and his Marxist Latin Liberation Theology.

    December 24, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
    • Lou

      Hey the book says " The meek shall inherit the earth"

      December 24, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
      • Captain Wolff

        You misheard that part. Jesus actually said "The Greek shall inherit the Earth."
        Darn Greeks. Why do they always get the special treatment?

        December 24, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
    • Teddy

      Tea Party haters checking in. No Pope is going to ruin their miserable holiday spirit.

      December 24, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
  14. tony

    Chritianity without collecting plates would soon become extinct.

    December 24, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
    • July


      December 24, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • Keith

      Christianity without their persecution complex would soon disappear.

      December 24, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
  15. iceload9

    The world has been in desperate need of someone who practices what they preach. Even if you aren't Catholic, the honesty and sincerity of the pope rings true.

    December 24, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
    • Keith

      It is great to have a pope like Francis

      December 24, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
  16. jamison

    If the Pope has such a high rating, then I assume Rush Limbarf is about as LOW in the human food chain as is imaginable.

    December 24, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
  17. Lou

    ohhh how I wish "Celebrity Death Match" was still on TV.......The Pope vs Rush in a steel cage...

    December 24, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
    • K-switch

      Claymation and youtube, make it happen.

      December 24, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
  18. Joe D Christmas

    Those who hate Catholics also hate their mother... and afraid of their shadow.

    December 24, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • 99.99% of Christians

      I have created a strawman argument that I'm dishonestly using to represent what atheists believe in a failed attempt to make them look silly, when I just look like an idiot.

      December 24, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
      • 88% of the Atheists

        I'm actually not a Christian. Online atheism is just as bad as Chrisitianity online. I'm hoping to help my fellow atheists see the light. I try to rationally point this out and nobody cares. When I post wild and hurtful comments like some atheists do to other people, suddenly they read it and get defensive.
        don't be such a d.ck. Your mom is probably a CHrsitian and you wouldn't talk to her the way you do to others here.

        December 24, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
        • @88% of Atheists

          If my mom used a strawman argument on me and was being a b!tch about it I would have no problem calling her out. But if she was being nice, I would politely explain that what she thinks I believe is not what I actually believe. But have fun on your quest to enighten your brethren.

          December 24, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
  19. jsdrt0616

    google: The lost Thomb of Jesus family

    December 24, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
    • Oh

      What's a Thomb?

      December 24, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
      • tony

        Thombthing to think about

        December 24, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
    • doobzz

      It's that short thung next to your fongers.

      December 24, 2013 at 5:20 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.