New Saint Leo University Poll Gives Pope Francis High Marks

March 22, 2017

Pope Francis Hugs Man at recent visit to a Rehap Hospital

Approval for Pope Francis remains high, a new poll by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute (http://polls.saintleo.edu) shows, and the issues he is addressing also garnered approval.

The nonpartisan, online poll surveyed 1,073 adults in the United States from March 3 through March 11, 2017, and the results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Pope Francis’ current favorable opinion rating is 70.5 percent, up from 62.6 percent in November 2016.  Among Catholics nationally, the total favorable opinion is higher at 82.6 percent. That is down slightly from 85.8 percent in November and 84.2 percent in September 2016.  Saint Leo’s poll did have more Catholics responding in this polling period, with 29.9 percent saying they are Catholic, compared to 22.6 percent in November 2016.

To determine the pope’s favorability/unfavorability ratings, Saint Leo’s survey asked respondents whether they have strongly or somewhat favorable, or strongly or somewhat unfavorable opinions of Pope Francis. The strongly and somewhat sentiments—at both ends of the spectrum—are combined into an overall favorable or unfavorable rating. The survey also allowed respondents to indicate if they had not heard of Pope Francis or were unsure of their opinion.

The poll shows 33.6 percent report they have a strongly favorable opinion of Pope Francis while 37 percent say their opinion is somewhat favorable. Of those with unfavorable opinions of the head of the Catholic Church, 7.3 percent give somewhat unfavorable while 6.2 percent report their opinion as not at all favorable.

In another portion of the survey, they were asked their opinion about Pope Francis’ thoughts on the environment, immigration, and aiding the needy, and other issues.

Poll respondents familiar with the pontiff also give Pope Francis high marks on advancing the poor, environmental issues, and human rights, with 88.4 percent, 83.7 percent, and 84.6 percent, respectively, approving of his actions and speeches.

“Recently, there has been more from Pope Francis on the environment, advancing the cause of the poor, and human rights,” said Dr. Marc Pugliese, Saint Leo University assistant professor of religion and theology. “In his Lenten message at the beginning of March, the pope spoke on the story of the rich and Lazarus in the Gospel of Luke. He talked about our responsibilities to the poor, pointing to how the poor man—Lazarus—was practically invisible to the rich man.”

Pope Francis focused on the presence of poor among us, Pugliese continued, and spoke of how everyone is “both a gift to us and a responsibility, calling us to conversion and action on the behalf of others.”

The pope also continued his call for caring for the environment, which he began in his environmental encyclical, Laudato Si´.“At the end of February, in anticipation of the seasons of Lent and Easter, the pope tied the themes of Easter, the resurrection, and new creation with care for the environment,” Pugliese said. Addressing world hunger, the pope connected care for creation and the environment to care for the poor.

Book by Pope Francis titled, Dear Pope Francis

The Saint Leo poll presented this question: “Pope Francis maintains that protecting the environment is the responsibility of all Christians. Would you say you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree with his statements?”

The poll shows 75.6 percent of those surveyed say they strongly or somewhat agree, compared to 72.7 in the 2016 poll. Another 13.2 percent say they strongly or somewhat disagree (14.5 percent disagreed in 2016) while another 11.2 say they are unsure.

Pugliese remarked on the difference in opinions. “One may agree that Pope Francis believes protecting the environment is Christian responsibility, but still rate Pope Francis lower on the job he is doing on the environment. Just because someone thinks that the environment is an important issue for the pope does not mean that the environment is just as important for they, themselves, personally.”

Saint Leo’s poll shows that 80.1 percent who say they are Catholic agree that caring for the environment is a Christian responsibility. Other Christians agree, at 78.3 percent while those who identify as “other” agree with the pope at 66 percent.

“It is notable that across all these divides, the idea that Catholic Christianity sees environmental stewardship as a religious duty is an idea that is largely accepted, and perhaps is even taken for granted,” said Dr. Michael Anthony Novak, assistant professor of religion and theology at Saint Leo University.   

Regarding human rights, in Pope Francis’ March 2 prayer video release, which is used to share his monthly prayer intentions, he addressed worldwide religious persecution, Pugliese said. The pope said, “How many people are being persecuted because of their faith, forced to abandon their homes, their places of worship, their lands, their loved ones?”

More moderate ratings were recorded for how Pope Francis is doing on family issues and marriage issues – 78.4 percent and 71.4 percent, respectively.

Pope Francis has spoken less about marriage and family issues lately, Pugliese said. Many lauded the pope’s seeming openness to allowing civilly divorced and remarried Catholic to receive communion while others saw this as a compromise, if not contradiction, of the Catholic Church’s longstanding teaching.

The pontiff’s rating regarding migration/immigration was lower, at 72.1 percent.

 “The pope’s lower ratings on immigration/migration are probably directly related to the heated debates about immigration in our country right now,” Saint Leo’s Pugliese said. “It is difficult to not see the president’s recent executive orders on immigration, and attention to the proposed wall along the southern border as bearing upon the lower approval ratings for the pope on immigration. Although in late February, the pope spoke yet again on immigration, indicating that protecting immigrants is a moral imperative, there were doubtless mixed responses.”