A Cost to the Pope’s Polls


At this year’s Portsmouth Institute conference, with the topic of Pope Francis, both Ross Douthat and John Carr mentioned the very strong, across-the-board favorability of Pope Francis in the United States.  As a central premise, of course, the leader of an organization driven by revelation and founded in the Word of God shouldn’t pay much attention to favorability polls, which are more appropriate to politics.  Still, with an eye toward being effective, no leader of any sort should dismiss the information if it’s available; the question is one of the weight it’s given on the decision-making scale.

In Douthat’s case, the New York Times columnist raised polling mainly by way of minimizing the significance of three groups of Catholics who were “unsettled” by the pope: Catholic traditionalists, politically and economically conservative Catholics, and socially conservative Catholics.  Carr raised the pope’s poll numbers to emphasize the huge potential for good could accompany Francis’s visit to the United States this autumn.  With such vast support, the pope would be better able to get across his message, and Catholics across the spectrum would presumably promote, reinforce, or at least not distract from it.

So what might it mean that Pope Francis’s approval ratings have taken a major hit in the past month?  According to Gallup, he’s still very popular in the United States, although his favorability among people who identify as conservatives has dropped from 72% last year to 45% now, and the drop was almost as substantial among Catholics as among non-Catholic Christians.

That said, in my running series of essays about the Portsmouth Institute presentations, I’m tracing what appears to be a subconscious concern that the pope might not be accurately assessing our point in history or his role in it.  Two problems that stand out, if such concerns are justified, are that the pope might play a role in hastening, rather than forestalling, a global crisis and that his intended message will be lost.

To oversimplify the first count, if the West is holding the world together by some remaining threads of actual economic and civic freedom, then attacking crony capitalism might advance the cause of corrupting socialism.  Thus a message that would be appropriate after a socialism-driven crash and shuffling of resources to a government-and-crony elite might push the world over the edge if what’s really happening is that the elite is using the pretense of solidarity in order to undermine its more-libertarian opposition.

On the second count, the more divided people are about the pope and his intentions, the less likely they will be to harken to his message of solidarity.

  • Are there yachts in hell?

    “the pope might not be accurately assessing our point in history or his role in it”…see you in hell!

    Shouldn’t baggers such as yourself believe that the Pope be directly elected by constituents? You certainly have an issue with any democratically elected or appointed body making or interpreting law for you, why not question the Church’s structure?

    • Justin Katz

      You’re approaching stalker territory. Please pause a moment and consider what you’re letting hatred do to you.

  • ShannonEntropy

    The Pope is a Socialist

    There are basically three kinds of those

    1.) Poor people who want what rich people have

    2.) Idiot Academics who don’t realize that when the Socialists actually get in charge, they will be the first ones to be purged, and

    3.) “Limousine Liberals” … like the Hollywood types and THE POPE … who appeal to the first two groups to keep ‘power’

    So let the Pope come visit here, then get in his jewel-encrusted Pope-mobile to ride to his private jet to go fly to his priceless-art-filled Palace in Rome [[ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apostolic_Palace ]]

    And don’t forget to lecture us the whole time about the Evils of Wealth, Francis !!

    • Seig Heil!

      I’m with this guy, bring back the Nazi Pope. We never had these socialistic problems with him.

  • msteven

    First off, I am not a Catholic but am no way anti-Catholic. The Pope is a leader of the largest religion and thus, his message has power. I agree with Justin and don’t see why poll numbers should be relevant to the role of the Pope but the reality today is that EVERYTHING is polled and ultimately judged by poll-based popularity.

    I don’t follow him as Justin does but has he really criticized capitalism? To what end? If favor of what? I guess in todays’ culture, any leader/celebrity is asked about everything so his Highness has likely been asked his view on the downfall of Tiger Woods. I think I recall one Pope (don’t know if current one) gave a thumbs up to the Harry Potter series, which of course inflamed some.

    My point is about Justin’s post final sentence “… the more divided people are about the pope and his intentions, the less likely they will be to harken to his message of solidarity.”. I just don’t think that’s possible today. Not sure if total solidarity could exist in a small church, a family, a sports team or even a small local advocacy group. Divisiveness rules the today. I blame that partially on the media which not only feeds on it but supplies the food. Like any leadership role, it is different today than it was even 10 or 20 years ago. Every word, intention is public and there is always something that someone disagrees with and that disagreement will be blown up to enrage others and so on and so on … it’s an impossible situation for any leader to be in. You can preach solidarity. But I don’t think it can ever be achieved. Even by a position as historically respected, beloved and powerful as the Pope.