WASHINGTON: Pope Francis will travel to the United States in several weeks, but a new poll suggested that his popularity in the country is waning, especially among conservative Catholics.
The pope’s popularity is down to where it stood in 2013, when he was elected leader of the 1.2 billion-member Roman Catholic Church, according to a Gallup poll.
In the United States — where a quarter of Americans are Catholic — the pontiff’s overall approval ratings among a random sampling of adults, slid to 59 percent, a drop from 76 percent in early 2014.
In April 2013, the month before he was elected pope, Francis’s approval rating stood at 58 percent among all Americans.
His unfavorable rating nearly doubled between 2014 and 2015, jumping from nine percent to 16 percent.
Others still said they had no idea who the leader of the Catholic world is, or did not have strong opinions either way.
About one quarter of Americans polled said they had never heard of Pope Francis or had no opinion of him, up from 16 percent in 2014.
Just 71 percent of Catholics reported a favorable image of their pope — down from 89% last year.
“The drop in the pope’s favorable rating is driven by a decline among Catholics and political conservatives, two groups that have been ardent supporters of the modern papacy,” Gallup said.
Favorable ratings among conservatives dropped 27 percentage points between 2014 and 2015 — from 72 to 45 percent — while approval ratings among moderates dipped eight percent, down to 71 percent.
Popularity also dropped among Protestants, with a 21 percentage point drop in the same period.
Gallup said the dipping approval ratings might be because US conservatives are turned off by the pope’s progressive stance on some issues.
“This decline may be attributable to the pope’s denouncing of ‘the idolatry of money’ and linking climate change partially to human activity, along with his passionate focus on income inequality — all issues that are at odds with many conservatives’ beliefs,” the pollsters said.
Still, Francis enjoys greater popularity than Pope Benedict XVI, who in 2010 had only a 40 percent favorable rating, tainted in part by allegations of sex abuse by Catholic clergy members .
Francis will visit the United States from September 22 to 27, and will meet with US President Barack Obama, make a speech to Congress and also visit the United Nations.
The random sampling was taken from July 8 to 12, among 1,009 adults living in the United States questioned. It reported a margin of sampling error at plus or minus four percentage points.