Polarization Among U.S. Catholics Widens Over Pope Francis

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A new survey revealed that the Pope enjoyed great popularity among Americans, though his popularity has dipped in recent years. What dramatically changed was that American Christians became more polarized about Pope Francis despite the primarily positive views. 

The Pope is still viewed favorably 

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A new Pew Research Center reported that 75% of U.S. Catholics have favorable views on Pope Francis. At his best, in 2015, the Pope enjoyed 90% favorability. His popularity dipped in 2021, when he lost 8% of supporters. So, while still prevalent, the Pope’s favorability is dipping. 

Democrats prefer the Pope


Democrats and Democrat-leaning voters maintained their approval of 89%. However, among Republican Christians, the Pope gained favorability of 63%. This is the most significant decline among Republican and Republican-leaning voters ever since Pope Francis began his papacy.

The reasons for the decline among GOP voters


35% of Republican or Republican-leaning Catholics in the U.S. have unfavorable views about the Pope. The reasons lie in his criticisms of capitalism, advocacy for climate change awareness, positivity toward the LGBTQ community, and other, often perceived as controversial, teachings. 

U.S. Catholics want changes


One of the biggest surprises in the survey was that 83% of U.S. Catholics want the church to allow the use of contraception. 78% of Catholic Democrats and 43% of Republican Catholics believe that abortion should be legal in all or nearly all cases. Most Christians recognized Pope Francis as an agent of change. 

Other changes 


Many people expressed approval for female priests, with 69% saying that priests should be allowed to get married and 64% saying that women should be allowed to become priests. More than half, or 54%, say that the church should recognize the marriages of LGBTQ couples.

More findings


The Pew survey unveiled that 61% of white Catholic registered voters lean toward the Republican Party, while 60% of Hispanic Catholics said they identify with the Democratic Party. Those who attend church more often are against dramatic changes, though only 28% attend Mass weekly. 

Gender and views 

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Women are more pro-recognizing gay marriages, with 60% compared to 47% of men. Women were also more in favor of birth control, though the difference is only 7%. Many agree that Pope Francis is different from his predecessors because he’s not pressuring people in teachings against abortion, contraception, and homosexuality. 

Pope Francis’ favorability through the years 

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The Pew Research Center has been tracking the Pope’s favorability since he became the first Pope from Latin America. This is the second-lowest favourability score in his papacy. The only time he received lower scores was in September 2018. 

The Pope prayed against polarization


In October 2023, Pope Francis prayed the assembly would be a place where the Holy Spirit would cleanse the church from polarization. At that time, the Pope said Catholics should not think in either-or terms. He has also noted that polarization causes people to lose the Catholic spirit and fall into a sectarian spirit.

The drop in the number of Catholics in the U.S. 


Around 20% of the U.S. population describe themselves as Catholics, representing a 4% drop compared to 2007. However, it is not a worrying trend since it has been steady since 2014. The majority are White, representing 57% of U.S. Catholics, while Hispanics are 33%. 

More revelations 


Black non-Hispanic Catholics make up 2% of the Catholic population, and Asian non-Hispanic Catholics make up 4%. White Catholics are much more likely to be college graduates than Hispanic Catholics. Nearly four in 10 white Catholics (39%) have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 16% of Hispanic Catholics. 

Interesting facts about the U.S. Catholics 


Approximately 60% of U.S. Catholics are 50 years old or older. The majority reside in the South, followed by the Northeast, West, and Midwest. Nearly half of Christians in the U.S. consider faith to be a significant part of their lives. Only 11% believe that abortion should be banned in all cases.


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Kate Smith, a self-proclaimed word nerd who relishes the power of language to inform, entertain, and inspire. Kate's passion for sharing knowledge and sparking meaningful conversations fuels her every word.