WASHINGTON – Among American Catholic voters, and especially among Latino American Catholics, the message of Pope Francis and the direction in which he is leading the church draws strong support, according to a new poll.
The survey — released Wednesday by Faith In Public Life and the Catholic University of America in advance of Francis’ first visit to the U.S. next week — found that Latino Catholic voters are the most responsive to the pope’s messages that the government should do more to reduce the gap between the rich and poor, as well as a bigger government that provides more services.
The country’s population of Latino voters is only growing, according to a Pew Research Survey, and more than half identify as Catholic.
Support for the pope is nearly as high among Catholic Latinos regardless of party identity, who approve of the direction he is taking the Catholic church 90-10 percent, as it is among Catholic Democrats, who approve 92-8. Catholic Republicans approve of the direction Francis has taken the church, 70-30, while white Catholics overall approve, 77-23 percent.
David Buckley, a professor of politics and religion at the University of Louisville, said the polling is consistent with how the vote divides among the larger population. “The Latino Catholic vote trends Democrat, and the white Catholic vote trends Republican,” he said.
To gauge the impact of the pope’s messages among voters, YouGov presented voters with a series of fictionalized news stories. One set saw real quotes that were attributed to Pope Francis. The other was shown the same quotes, but they were attributed instead to Catholic leaders, religious leaders and experts. In one instance, the survey found that Catholics, both Democrats and Republicans, were more likely to agree that humans have a “moral duty” to act on climate change when presented with the pope’s message.
“People actually seem to be influenced by the pope,” Buckley said.
Overall, 83 percent of Catholic likely voters had a favorable opinion of the pope, while only 11 percent had an unfavorable view. When asked about whether the pope is moving the church in the right direction, Catholic voters overall supported him, 82-18 percent.