Pope Francis has taken a big hit to his popularity with Americans

Praying for more popularity?
Praying for more popularity?
Image: Reuters/Tony Gentile
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The world—and not just the Catholic world—loves Pope Francis. But in the US, at least, the love’s not as strong as it used to be.

Last February, 76% of Americans overall held a favorable view of the pope, according to Gallup. Today that figure is down to 59%.

The pontiff’s poll numbers are off across the board, among America’s Catholics and non-Catholics…

… and among people of all political stripes.

But the largest drop by far is among American conservatives. Only 45% of them hold a positive view of Pope Francis, down 27 percentage points from last February—compared with a 14 percentage-point drop among liberals. (Moderates, fittingly, shifted their views the least; the pope lost only 8 percentage points with them.)

The latest survey was conducted from July 8 to July 12. The results may have been influenced by the pope’s encyclical, published in June. Notably, the document condemned unfettered capitalism and held humans responsible for climate change, two things American conservatives in particular might not have appreciated. Pope Francis also has made headlines of late with his realistic views on divorce. (His relatively progressive views on homosexuality were voiced before the earlier survey.)

While the pope’s reputation in the US remains higher than his predecessor’s—Pope Benedict XVI retired with an approval rate of 40%, and never went above 63% in his career, according to Gallup—he’s fallen far behind John Paul II, who was looked upon favorably by 86% of Americans at his popularity peak in 1998, and by 78% of Americans shortly before his death in 2005.

John Paul II, who was canonized alongside the extremely popular John XXIII—the author of the most progressive Catholic church reforms of the 20th century—was notoriously media savvy, and this paid off in terms of his visibility. While 21% of Americans had not heard of him or had no opinion of him when he was elected, that figure dropped to as low as 6% in his heyday. Pope Francis still elicits no recognition or no opinion from 25% of Americans, down from 31% at the start of his papacy in early 2013.

But he’ll soon have a chance to work on his polling: Pope Francis is planning to make his first papal visit to the US in September 2015.