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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
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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. Edward Boothe

    I guess Socialism is popular in more places than just the United States.

    December 25, 2013 at 8:04 am |
  2. Bob Ussery

    When religion is removed from the Christian faith God is easily seen. The bells and whistles called Rome pollute the message of Christ unfortunately. Study Scriptures and learn for yourself the power of Christ, personally. No "church" can save you.

    December 25, 2013 at 7:53 am |
    • sam stone

      once you identifly christ as something to have faith in, you have chosen a religion

      December 25, 2013 at 10:41 am |
    • G to the T

      "Study Scriptures and learn for yourself the power of Christ, personally." I'd be very surprised if this was true. If two people, who had NEVER heard about the bible or christianity before, read the bible unassisted, what would they think it was all about?

      I have a strong feeling they wouldn't come out the same and/or the same as most churches today...

      December 30, 2013 at 11:11 am |
  3. From the Moneky Cage

    The pope is part of the group – no ?

    The honesty of clergy, car salesmen, and politicians

    By Erik Voeten
    December 17 at 3:12 pm

    Gallup reports that fewer Americans regard the clergy as honest now than at any time since it started asking the question in 1977.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2013/12/17/the-honesty-of-clergy-car-salesmen-and-politicians/

    December 25, 2013 at 7:37 am |
  4. Mossback

    Pancho's got game!

    December 25, 2013 at 6:55 am |
  5. marsilius

    CNN: Is this poll, about approval of Pope Francis in 2013 in the USA, a poll just of American Catholics, as this article's writer Mr. Burke seems to be saying at the start of this article? Or is this poll a poll both of American non-Catholics and of American Catholics (mostly, according to the numbers given, of American non-Catholics), as Mr. Burke seems to be saying, with greater polling-data precision, at the end of this article? Once the answer to those questions is ascertained, could this article be re-written to eliminate, in an accurate way, this apparent inconsistency? Confusion would be cleared up, for readers, if this would please be done.

    December 25, 2013 at 3:32 am |
  6. EdvardMunchy Jones

    Man oh man, Barry must be so freakin' jealous!

    December 25, 2013 at 1:22 am |
    • Observer

      The last president said he talked to God and he may have been our WORST president ever.

      December 25, 2013 at 1:30 am |
      • lol??

        the cycle.
        White horse...........Bush I
        Red horse..............Clinton
        Black horse.............Bush II
        Pale horse...............Obama

        Usually corruption gets more yucky with time. Ever seen "An American Werewolf in London"?? It's a classic.

        December 25, 2013 at 1:40 am |
      • EdvardMunchy Jones

        And this president doesn't even know who God is and look at him. He IS the worst president ever. Funny how things change isn't it.

        December 25, 2013 at 1:55 am |
        • Observer

          Edvard,

          lol. You have forgotten George W. Bush or else weren't in the country. He left us losing well over a half million jobs each month and a PLUMMETING stock market, which is setting new highs almost daily after almost DOUBLING.

          Bin Laden is dead after Bush didn't care about him and we haven't started anymore $2,000,000,000,000 wars for FALSE REASONS like Bush and the Republicans did.

          Get REAL.

          December 25, 2013 at 2:00 am |
        • lol??

          Wars cost money and provide servanthood jobs in da hood. That's why you had the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, the War on Terror, and the War on sickness. Now add em up and count the cost. Being against them is not considered patriotic by the matriots.

          December 25, 2013 at 2:09 am |
    • lol??

      Barry Goldwater passed into the realm of freedom, if he was saved.

      December 25, 2013 at 1:31 am |
      • EdvardMunchy Jones

        I saw what you did there. You know I'm talking about Madrasa educated Barry Soetoro from Indonesia who now lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue!

        December 25, 2013 at 1:48 am |
        • Observer

          You must mean our president who graduated with HONORS from Harvard Law School.

          How did you do?

          December 25, 2013 at 1:49 am |
        • lol??

          How do you like your new leader from Harvard, the chaplain, observer?? He'll keep your doctrines on the straight and narrow.

          December 25, 2013 at 1:54 am |
        • Mike

          What a kook....

          December 25, 2013 at 6:26 am |
  7. Allegedly Good

    One allegedly good person does not change the essence of a criminal organization.

    The catholic church is s historically criminal organization with an established record of crimes against humanity.

    December 25, 2013 at 1:15 am |
    • EdvardMunchy Jones

      Man oh man, sounds a lot like the current administration. I'm glad I go to a Viking church.

      December 25, 2013 at 1:26 am |
  8. How Many Catholics Were in the Sample?

    I am confused.....the end of the article says that the poll was based on 1,035 adults, INCLUDING 191 CATHOLICS........this was not clear in the first paragraphs.......

    December 25, 2013 at 12:20 am |
  9. naksuthin

    Rush Limbaugh is livid because this Pope chooses the message of Christ over the message of Right Wing Conservative wackos.
    Yes. Sarah Palin....the Pope does sound..."sort of liberal".
    Christ was a liberal.
    He believed that a rich man could not be a follower unless he sold everything he owned, gave the money to the poor and followed Jesus.
    That's not me saying that...that's Christ.

    December 25, 2013 at 12:03 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.