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Poll: Pope Francis has 'astoundingly high' favorability rating among NYC residents

Pope Francis, pictured here on Aug. 26, 2015,

Pope Francis, pictured here on Aug. 26, 2015, gets high marks from New Yorkers in a recent Newsday/News 12/Siena College poll. Photo Credit: Getty / Vincenzo Pinto

Pope Francis gets "astoundingly high" favorability ratings from New York City residents in a new poll, though only about half of the respondents said they agree with all or most of his stances on political and social issues.

Seventy-five percent of city residents in the Newsday/News 12/Siena College poll had a "favorable" opinion of Francis.

Fifty-one percent of respondents said they agreed with "almost all" or "most but not all" of the pope's positions on such issues, and another 25% of New Yorkers said they agreed with "some" of those. Eight percent said they agreed with "very few" of Francis' positions, and 6% said they agreed with none of his stances.

The pope is "an interesting figure that can inspire this almost unheard-of favorability while still having and espousing views that only about half of people say they tend to agree with," said Donald P. Levy, director of the Siena College Research Institute.

Pollsters usually consider a favorability rating of around 60% "an enormous number," he said, and Francis' rating in this survey is "an astoundingly high number."

The research institute conducted the telephone poll of 496 city residents from Aug. 30 through Sept. 8. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Pope Francis, 78, plans to make his first trip to the United States from Sept. 23 through 27, visiting Washington, D.C., New York City and Philadelphia, where the World Meeting of Families is being held.

The New York metropolitan region is home to a huge number of Catholics. The Archdiocese of New York includes an estimated 2.6 million in the boroughs of Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island and seven counties north and west of the city. The Diocese of Brooklyn, with 1.5 million Catholics, covers the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. Another 1.4 million are in the Diocese of Rockville Centre on Long Island.

While in New York, the pope will attend an evening vespers service at St. Patrick's Cathedral, address the United Nations General Assembly, visit the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, meet with schoolchildren and immigrants, ride in a motorcade through Central Park and celebrate Mass at Madison Square Garden.

The new survey found that 79% of city respondents thought the pontiff would have a "significant positive effect" or "some positive effect" on the people of the world.

Janet Scher, 72, of Fresh Meadows, Queens, who was among those polled, said she is hopeful about Francis' ability to bring together diverse groups of people. The retired assistant high school principal, who is Jewish, applauded the pope's outreach.

"He seems to be more ecumenical, more understanding of people in general, not only Roman Catholics," she said.

Connie Lasher, an associate professor in Molloy College's Theology and Religious Studies Department, said the poll illustrates people's connection to Pope Francis as "a person of good will" no matter what their political opinions.

Francis, she said, is "transparent in his authenticity. And what people see in him is his deep humanity and his compassion. I think that's one reason his popularity cuts across demographics."

Along those lines, 52% of city respondents said Francis' "simple" lifestyle -- he has chosen to live in more modest quarters than those normally used by a pope, for example -- made them have a more favorable opinion of him.

Paul Swift, 60, a computer programmer who lives in the Bronx, was in the minority of respondents -- 10% -- who said they had an "unfavorable" view of the pope.

Swift, who described his political identity as "very conservative," said he disagrees with Francis' views on climate change being man-made, and he rejected what he called the pope's "socialist distributive tendencies, which he's made pretty clear."

He said, though, that he is in "complete agreement" with the pope that life is sacred from conception to natural death.

Levy described the poll question on that issue as "pope-speak" for opposition to abortion. Poll respondents, he added, understood what that meant even though the word "abortion" was not used in the survey.

The poll found that 46% of city residents polled "strongly agree" and another 24% "somewhat agree" with the pope's position on the human life question. Twelve percent "somewhat disagree" and 11% "strongly disagree."

Julie Byrne, who holds the Msgr. Thomas J. Hartman Endowed Chair in Catholic Studies at Hofstra University, said that Francis has "tried to split the difference by making approaches to women who have had abortions" and showing compassion toward them.

"On the eve of coming here, he's trying not to increase divisions," Byrne said.

On Sept. 1, Francis announced that during the upcoming Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, all priests in the Catholic Church will have authority to absolve women who have had abortions. The move, which expands a granting of forgiveness traditionally performed by bishops, does not reflect any change in the church's stance against abortion.

The pope's high favorability rating among city residents is in contrast to a recent Gallup poll that found that rating in the United States had fallen from a high of 76% in 2014 -- a year after his papacy began -- to 59% this year. Gallup, in its poll conducted July 8-12, said the pope's rating was similar to the 58% he received in April 2013, soon after he was elected pope.

Gallup attributed the drop in its favorability percentages to the decline among Catholics and political conservatives. Gallup found that 71% of Catholics say they have a favorable image of the pope, down from 89% last year. Its poll also found that conservatives' favorable rating of the pope dropped from 72% in 2014 to 45% this year.

A separate poll of American voters by Quinnipiac University last month focused largely on voters' views of the decisions of President Barack Obama and Congress and political issues in the United States. That survey asked respondents about the pope's climate change message, though not whether they had a favorable opinion of the pontiff.

The Quinnipiac poll found that American voters, by a margin of 65% to 27%, agreed with the pope's call for action to address climate change. A breakdown by political affiliation showed Democrats supporting it 84% to 9% and independents by 67% to 27%. Republicans disagreed with the pope's call to action on climate change, 48% to 40%.

More than two-thirds of the Quinnipiac poll's respondents -- 68% -- said climate change was caused by human activity.

The Newsday/News 12/Siena College poll found that 51% of New Yorkers polled overall -- with those living in Manhattan polling highest at 70% -- "strongly agree" with the pope that climate change was man-made.


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