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Polling: How Pope Francis, Catholic Church Fare Among Americans

Pope Francis waves to reporters at Rome's Fiumicino international airport, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, as he boards his flight to Habana, Cuba, where he will start a 10-day trip including the United States.

On the eve of Pope Francis’ arrival in the United States, the pontiff’s standing among Catholics and other faiths is generally favorable, although some polls noted a slight dip in his popularity earlier this summer.

Last month, the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute released a survey that found the pope’s popularity among Americans in general was significantly higher than that of the Catholic Church itself.

The survey said 67 percent of Americans in general had a favorable opinion of Pope Francis, compared to 56 percent who had a favorable view of the church.

Among U.S. Catholics, the pope and the church fared about the same, 90 percent had a favorable opinion of the pope, while 89 percent had a favorable view of the church, the survey of 1,331 people conducted in early August found.

The PRRI survey also found that 60 percent of Catholics reported that their feelings toward the church had changed a lot or a little over the past couple of years, roughly the period of Pope Francis’ papacy. And among those Catholics who said their feelings about the church had changed, 59 percent said their feelings had become more favorable, while 36 percent said they had become less favorable.

A Gallup poll conducted July 8-12 found that Pope Francis' favorability rating among Americans declined, from 76 percent in 2014 to 59 percent in 2015. The rating is similar to the 58 percent approval rating Francis received from Americans in April 2013, soon after he was elected pope.

Among Catholics, the poll found his favorability rating had fallen to 71 percent, from 89 percent in 2014.

Gallup cited the drop in the pope's favorability rating was driven by a decline among Catholics and political conservatives, two groups that have been ardent supporters of the modern papacy.

The latest Pew Research Center survey of 1,504 people conducted Feb. 18-22, 2015 – roughly two years after he began his papacy – found 90 percent of U.S. Catholics said they had a favorable view of Francis.

The Pew survey found Francis’ favorability rating among U.S. Catholics comparable to ratings for Pope John Paul II in the 1980s and ’90s. The numbers also surpass any favorability rating for Pope Benedict XVI in previous Pew Research Center surveys.

A recent New York Times-CBS News poll, conducted September 8-15 and released Monday, found that nearly 80 percent of Catholics approve of the direction Pope Francis is leading the church.

Sixty-three percent of Catholics view the pope favorably, the poll found.

In the survey of 513 Catholics, 43 percent said the pope’s opinions on the environment, immigration and the distribution of wealth are similar to their own, while 24 percent said Francis is more liberal and 22 percent said he is more conservative.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll, conducted September 7-10 among 1,003 people, found 70 percent of U.S. adults have a favorable view of the pope. Among Catholics polled, the favorability rating rises to 86 percent.

Among all adults, 55 percent have a favorable view of the church, while among Catholics that number rises to 81 percent, according to the survey.

Overall, 64 percent of survey participants approve of the direction Pope Francis is leading the church, while 89 percent of Catholics approve.