Pope Francis is not as popular a pontiff as he used to be in the United States — especially among conservatives — according to a new Gallup survey out Wednesday.
A larger share of American Catholics say they don’t have a favorable view of their church’s spiritual leader. A little more than seven in 10 (71 percent) have a favorable image of Francis, a drop of 18 percentage points from last year.
The drop is even more marked among conservatives, 72 percent of which viewed him in a favorable light in 2014. This year, just 45 percent have a positive opinion of him.
Many conservatives and Republicans balked at Francis’ environmental encyclical delivered last month, which called climate change “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”
“I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinal or my pope,” GOP presidential contender Jeb Bush told supporters at the time.
Liberals and moderates are also less satisfied with the pope than they were last year. Among liberals, Francis’ favorability rating dropped from 82 percent to 68 percent; among moderates, it dropped from 79 percent to 71 percent.
Still, 59 percent of Americans surveyed said they have a favorable view of the pope, but that is sharp decrease from last February, when 76 percent held a favorable view of the Argentinian, who was elected to succeed Benedict XVI in March 2013.
Francis’ favorability numbers are better than those of his immediate predecessor, though they are not quite up to par with Pope John Paul II, who at one point in 1998 enjoyed a favorability rating of 86 percent, according to a Gallup poll conducted in the days following Christmas.
The latest poll comes as Francis prepares to make his first visit to the United States in September, where he will travel to New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. While in the nation’s capital, he will become the first pope to address a joint session of Congress, and Jumbotrons will be set up outside the Capitol for an expected overflow crowd.
Generally, popes have received a bump in approval ratings among Americans when they visit the country. As Gallup notes, John Paul II benefited from trips to the U.S. in 1993 and 1999, and Benedict XVI earned his best favorability marks following a 2008 visit to the country.
The latest poll was conducted via landlines and cellphones from July 8-12, surveying 1,009 adults nationwide. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.