Pope Francis’ popularity dropped in the United States a few years ago amid a sex abuse crisis in the U.S. Catholic Church. But Americans’ opinions of the pontiff have since rebounded, and between February 2020 and March 2021 – 13 months that included moves by Francis to expand the role of women in the church as well as a widening debate about whether President Joe Biden should be denied Communion – views toward Francis remained fairly stable.
About six-in-ten U.S adults (63%) have a “very” or “mostly” favorable opinion of Pope Francis, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in March using the Center’s online American Trends Panel. This is nearly identical to the share of adults who had a favorable view of Francis in February 2020 (64%).
The pope’s favorability also has remained steady among U.S. Catholics, with 82% of Catholics in both the March 2021 and February 2020 surveys saying they have a favorable opinion of the pope.
These March 2021 and February 2020 results are not entirely comparable to figures from earlier surveys the Center conducted by telephone. Online and phone surveys sometimes produce disparate results, a polling phenomenon called a mode effect. One key difference is that online polls tend to result in fewer respondents declining to answer the question if there are fewer opportunities to express “no opinion.” This analysis indicates that any change in the results between January 2020 (when this question was last asked on the phone) and March 2021 was likely due to fewer people declining to give an opinion on the web survey.
Views of Pope Francis have remained fairly stable among Catholic subgroups, too. For example, Catholics who identify as Democrats or who lean toward that party continue to have a more positive opinion of Francis than their Republican counterparts, a partisan pattern that has held since 2018. In the latest survey, 90% of Catholic Democrats expressed a favorable opinion of the pope, compared with 73% of Catholic Republicans and GOP leaners.
Moreover, the latest survey finds little difference in opinions of Francis among Catholics who attend Mass regularly and those who go less often – consistent with patterns seen in previous years. Among weekly Mass-goers, 84% said in March that they have a very or mostly favorable opinion of the pope, as did 82% of Catholics who attend Mass less often, including those who say they never go.
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