Pope Francis' approval rating dips in US ahead of September visit: Poll

Pope Francis' approval rating dips in US ahead of September visit: Poll
PHOTO: Reuters

BOSTON - Pope Francis' approval rating in the United States has dropped during the past year, according to a new poll, with conservatives and Roman Catholics taking a cooler view of the prelate after his strong warning on environmental crises and criticism of the excesses of capitalism.

The pope, who is due to visit the United States in September, still is warmly regarded by most Americans, with 59 per cent telling the Gallup polling service they view him favourably. That figure is down from 76 per cent a year ago but in line with his favorability rating shortly after he was named to lead the 1.2 billion-member church in March 2013.

The pope's popularity fell the most among US adults who identify as conservative, with just 45 per cent saying they viewed the Argentine favourably in a poll conducted from July 8-12. That was down from 72 per cent who viewed him favourably in February 2014.

Some 71 per cent of US Catholics said they approved of the pope, down from 89 per cent a year earlier.

The decline comes as the Francis has changed the focus of his public remarks from that of his immediate predecessors, focusing less on the church's opposition to abortion and gay marriage and spending more of his time discussing social inequity and poverty.

His environmental encyclical, "Laudato Si," the first such papal pronouncement to focus on climate change, met with a lukewarm response from US Republican presidential hopefuls, including former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and US Senator Marco Rubio, both of whom are Catholic.

Many in the party consider the science on whether humans are changing the environment unsettled. "This is making people uncomfortable," said the Rev. James Bretzke, a professor of moral theology at Boston College, who like Francis is a Jesuit.

"These poll numbers are not surprising and as a matter of fact you could even say there is an upside to them in the sense that it shows people are listening to the pope," Bretzke said.

"They're not always agreeing with him but they are clearly listening." Even with the decline, Francis remains more popular in the United States than his immediate predecessor, Benedict XVI, had been at any time in his eight-year papacy, according to Gallup data.

The latest poll of 1,009 US adults has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

Francis will address the US Congress and the United Nations during his US visit in September.

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