Some Americans appear to be generating more positive vibes toward the Catholic Church after Pope Francis’s trip to the United States last month.
Americans who are liberal and Democrat are more likely than other people to say Francis has given them a positive view of the Catholic Church, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
The survey finds that those who are liberal or moderate see the pope more favorably than conservatives do. After his trip, 80 percent of Democrats said they had a very or mostly favorable view of Francis, compared with 73 percent of those who said the same thing in February.
Overall, 28 percent of U.S. adults say they have a more positive view of the Catholic Church because of Francis. Just 6 percent say they have a more negative view of the church because of Francis, and overall, 58 percent of Americans say their view of the church has not changed very much.
The survey was conducted Oct. 1-4, a few days after it came out that the pope met with Kim Davis, the controversial Kentucky clerk who went to jail rather than allow her office to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
About 40 percent of self-identified liberals say they have a more positive view of the church because of Francis, and 31 percent of moderates say the same thing.
Just 2 percent of Democrats said Francis pushed their view of the Catholic Church in the negative direction, compared with 35 percent who said he gave them a more positive view.
Among conservatives, 22 percent had a more positive view of the church, compared with 10 percent who held a more negative view, a similar view of those who identify as Republican.
Francis’s overall favorability rating is 68 percent, close to the 70 percent of Americans who expressed a positive view of him in February and close to Pope Benedict XVI’s favorability after he visited the United States in April 2008.
About 80 percent of Catholics overall now say they have a favorable view of Pope Francis, compared with 90 percent of those who expressed the same view of him in February.
Francis’s decline in favorability among Catholics is mainly due to the changing views of those who attend Mass regularly. Of regular Mass-attending Catholics who were surveyed, 84 percent have a favorable view of Francis — down since February, when 95 percent of the same expressed a favorable view of the pontiff.
Those who took the survey were asked what one word best describes their impression of the pope. Among the most commonly mentioned words were “good,” “humble,” “kind” and “compassionate,” words that were mentioned far more often than neutral or negative words such as “religious,” “liberal” or “socialist.”
Half of American adults reported that they followed news about the papal visit “very closely”or “fairly closely.” By comparison, a survey earlier this year found that 43 percent of adults followed news about President Obama’s State of the Union speech “very” or “fairly” closely.
Although Catholics have long made up about a quarter of the U.S. population, recent data has shown the number is declining. In 2014, 20.8 percent of Americans identified as Catholic, according to previous survey results from Pew.
Seventy-seven percent of those who were raised Catholic but have since left the church could not see themselves returning to it, according to a Pew survey released in September. Overall, 45 percent of Americans say they are Catholic or are connected to Catholicism.