Pope Francis, political uniter

December 11, 2013

Pope Francis  -- Time Magazine's just-declared Person of the Year --  is doing something no politician this side of the Atlantic can manage: He's uniting political adversaries.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds nearly seven in 10 Americans have a favorable impression of Pope Francis (69 percent), a sharp increase from attitudes toward his predecessor Pope Benedict's 54 percent mark in February. A major part of this shift came from political liberals, who were least approving of Benedict but are now among Francis' strongest supporters.


The lack of a political divide over Francis may owe in part to his short time on the job. But, even in his short tenure, Francis has shown a willingness to jump into contentious political debates. In November, he sharply criticized economic inequality, unfettered markets and consumerism in a populist teaching outlining his plans for the Catholic Church.

The exhortation received many positive reviews, but also drew barbs from the right -- with conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh accusing the Pope of "pure Marxism." While the Pope's pronouncements may have cheered liberals, critiques have yet to sink in with conservatives.

In February, Pope Benedict won favorable ratings from 62 percent of conservatives but just 48 percent of liberals. But 75 percent of liberals have a favorable impression of Francis, a 27-point jump over Benedict. At the same time, two-thirds of conservatives (67 percent) also give Francis positive ratings, similar to Benedict's final score.


There is a similar thawing in partisan divisions over the Pope. Two-thirds of Republicans (68 percent) and over three in four Democrats (77 percent) have favorable views of Francis in the new survey.


By comparison, the February poll found past Pope Benedict earning widely positive ratings among Republicans (66 percent), but only 50 percent of Democrats said the same.


The new poll was conducted December 4 to 8 and included 1,006 randomly selected adults reached on landline and cellular phones. The full survey has a margin of error of 3.5 percent. Explore interactive poll results and trends over time here.

Scott Clement is a survey research analyst for The Washington Post. Scott specializes in public opinion about politics, election campaigns and public policy.
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