New Saint Leo Polling Institute Survey Quantifies Appeal of Pope Francis

October 01, 2015

Americans polled just after Pope Francis’ historic visit to the United States like the leader of the Catholic Church so much that three-quarters, or 75.8 percent, reported holding either a very favorable or somewhat favorable opinion of the pontiff, according to data collected by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute.

The nonpartisan survey of 1,000 respondents nationwide was conducted September 27 – 29, 2015, to capture Americans’ sentiments immediately following the end of the pope’s six-day visit. It was a special survey solely about Pope Francis and his impact, and conducted apart from the institute’s usual quarterly survey on politics and other topics in the public sphere. This poll included Catholics, other Christians, members of other faith groups, and those not affiliated with any faith group. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percent for responses gathered from the overall survey base. (Detailed information is at http://polls.saintleo.edu.)

“The pope is very popular, not just among Catholics, but also among Christians, and non-Christians,” said Frank Orlando, Saint Leo University instructor of political science. “In the past, politicians needed to work with the pope to help with Catholic voters. While between 20 and 25 percent of all Americans are Catholic, this pope is reaching almost everyone,” Orlando added.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute has been tracking the popularity of the pontiff across the broad population over time, and the most recent survey reflects a clear boost in the pope’s popularity. In a poll conducted in March 2015, 66 percent of respondents reported having either a very favorable or somewhat favorable opinion of Francis. In late September and early October 2014, 63 percent reported a very favorable or somewhat favorable reaction.

“It seems to make a great difference to see Francis here in America, engaging Americans within our context,” added theologian Dr. Michael Anthony Novak, in commenting on the increase.

Additionally, 88.8 percent of respondents credit Pope Francis, who is from Argentina, with energizing Latinos or Hispanics with a new enthusiasm for the Catholic Church.

Respondents reacted to Francis’ key messages, which included:

  • The need for hope and opportunity among young people
  • Support for family life
  • Understanding how business and technology can serve humankind
  • Improving our nation’s response to the vulnerable
  • Encouraging wealthy nations to take in refugees and migrants fleeing violence and poverty
  • Protecting the environment as the responsibility of all Christians
  • Encouraging the U.S. needs to do more to address global climate change
  • The pope’s decision to allow Roman Catholic priests to absolve women who have had abortions after they seek forgiveness
  • A decision to make annulments simpler and less expensive for married Catholics

Additional Saint Leo University faculty also reviewed the findings, and in press releases, offer their opinions on the pope’s pastoral appeal, his advocacy for the environment, his possible influence on the spiritual lives of American Catholics. The coverage also offers insight into why politicians like to be associated with Pope Francis, even though American political labels of liberal or conservative don’t easily apply to the pontiff.

In addition to reading results on the polling institute website, you can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.