Americans’ feelings toward their own political leaders run hot and cold, but there is broad agreement that they like Pope Francis, according to the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.
The pope’s approval ratings are through the roof – 56% of those surveyed see him in a positive light, while only 6% have a negative view. The difference, 49 percentage points, is larger than anyone else the poll surveyed – 19 points more than former President Bill Clinton, who is the next most popular by this measure. Barack Obama, by contrast, has a 44% approval rating, compared to 43% who disapprove.
Born in Argentina as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the first pope from the Western Hemisphere has also improved Americans’ view of the Catholic Church, which in recent years has been ensnared in scandal. The poll found 43% of Americans have a more favorable view of the church because of the pope’s statements – which include his famous “Who am I to judge” position on gays – while only 4% see the church in a less favorable light.
Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, took far more conservative stances on the social issues facing the church. He was viewed less well in the U.S., with just 30% having a favorable view of him compared to 17% who did not, according to a Journal/NBC poll in February 2013. Pope John Paul II was seen positively by 65% of Americans in 1998, when only 7% had an unfavorable view of him.