Only six months before his first visit to the United States, Pope Francis' popularity in the United States is at an all-time high, according to a report released on Thursday by the Pew Research Center.
Not surprisingly, the pope's popularity ratings substantially surpass those of his predecessor Benedict XVI. But after only two years as leader of the Catholic Church - he celebrates his second anniversary as pontiff on March 13 -- Francis' popularity nearly matches that of Saint John Paul II, one of the most popular popes in modern history.
According to the survey, 9 out of 10 U.S. Catholics now say they have a favorable view of Francis, and 6 out of 10 say they have a "very favorable" view. Catholics who attend Mass weekly are nearly unanimous in their approval of the pope, giving him a rock-star thumbs-up of 95 percent. His popularity comes despite some spontaneous remarks - from those welcoming homosexuals to blasting "savage capitalism" - considered controversial by some Catholics, and the cause of some debate among his followers.
The pope's popularity among Catholics is broad-based and non-partisan, with "minimal differences" in approval by gender, ethnicity, age or political orientation.
Francis' fan club also includes non-Catholics. Among U.S. adults (both Catholic and non-Catholic), 7 out of 10 view him favorably, a 13-point increase in the last two years, suggesting that the more they know him, the more they like him. Fifteen percent view him unfavorably, a share that has remained relatively stable since his election. And the share of those who say they have no opinion, or don't know enough about the pope to have one, declined from 29 percent to 15 percent.
Even among religious "nones" (those who profess no particular religion, or identify themselves as atheists or agnostics), the pope scored a rating of 68 percent, up from 39 percent immediately after his election.