Sixty percent of U.S. adults have a positive perception of Pope Francis, up from 54 percent in 2014, according to a Barna Research Group report.
The pope polled most favorably among “Gen-Xers” (born between 1965 and 1983) with 71 percent approval, a 20 percent increase from 2014.
While favorability also rose among Millennials (1984 to 2002), up 14 points to 55 percent, other generations saw a decrease in positive perception of Francis.
The “Elders” (1945 or before) declined eight points to 58 percent, while “Boomers” (1946 to 1964) saw a nine-point drop to 54 percent.
Favorability also declined among U.S. Catholics, moving from 85 to 79 percent, but increased among Protestants from 48 to 58 percent.
Similar trends were revealed when respondents were asked about whether the pope had improved their views of the Roman Catholic Church.
There was an overall increase from 35 to 40 percent of affirmative responses, with three groups seeing a significant increase in positive responses: Gen-Xers, Millennials and Protestants. Positive responses declined among Boomers, Catholics and Elders.
When asked about Pope Francis’ impact on their personal spiritual practices, every generation (save Elders) saw an increase in positive responses.
Twenty-one percent of all respondents said the pope had influenced positively their personal piety (up from 5 percent in 2014), compared to Millennials (34 percent), Gen-Xers (31 percent), Protestants (23 percent), Catholics (22 percent) and Boomers (8 percent).
“The spiritual impact of Pope Francis is one of the most remarkable findings from the study, with one in five Americans saying the Christian leader has caused them to make changes to their spiritual life,” the Barna Group said. “Though self-reported, the perceived influence of the Pope among younger Americans stands in stark contrast to the trends toward religious and church disengagement among Millennials.”
Despite the pontiff’s overall favorability, only 50 percent of respondents are aware of the papal visit to the U.S. taking place Sept. 22-27.
“It is a sign of the distracted era in which we live that many Americans – including two out of every five U.S. Catholics – are not aware of his visit,” Barna observed.
The full report is available here.