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03/15/2013 01:20 pm ET | Updated Mar 16, 2013

Pope Francis Gets Strong Ratings From U.S. Catholics In First Days: HuffPost/YouGov Survey

AP

In the first days of his papacy, Pope Francis has made a strong impression among American Catholics, according to a new survey conducted by HuffPost/YouGov.

The poll found that 62 percent of U.S. Catholics said they have either a "very favorable" or "somewhat favorable" view of the new leader of the 1.2-billion member church, while most others said they did not know enough about Francis to make a judgment. It also found that 62 percent of Catholics said having a Latin American pope would help the church in its global outreach.

The first pope from outside Europe in more than a millennium, Francis, known as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio before his election Wednesday, was previously the archbishop of Buenos Aires. His papacy has been viewed as a signal that the church, whose membership has dramatically shifted from Europe to the Americas over the last century, will put more emphasis on the regions where it's growing.

In addition to questions about first impressions and global outreach, the poll, which was conducted March 13-14 among a representative sample of 1,000 U.S. adults, including 214 Catholics, asked respondents how much they had heard about the new pope and if they thought he would or should broadly change the church's policies.

In the poll, nearly half of Americans (48 percent) and a majority of Catholics (67 percent) said they "heard a lot" about the new pope, and 53 percent of Catholics said they expected Francis to "maintain the traditional policies of the church." But when asked about church policies, 49 percent said they wanted the pope to "change church policies to reflect the attitudes of Catholics today."

The survey did not ask which specific policies the pope could or should change, but Francis steps into the papacy during a key period of transformation. He faces a rising tide of secularism in Europe and Western nations as well as church growth in areas such as Latin America, home to 39 percent of the world's Catholics.

During Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's papacy, multiple priest abuse scandals rocked the church in several nations, and Francis will have to confront the damage done to the church's reputation. The Vatican is also battling internal political turmoil, including the aftermath of VatiLeaks, the scandal involving a series of confidential Vatican documents released to the media during Benedict's papacy. In addition, changing mores on sexuality, including premarital sex, same-sex marriage and the widespread use of contraception, have challenged the church's traditional stances.

HuffPost/YouGov also conducted a poll prior to Francis' election that asked about U.S. Catholics' approval of Benedict. In that survey, released Feb. 22, about a third of Catholics viewed Benedict very favorably, while only 10 percent of non-Catholics said the same. Thirty-one percent of Catholics said they had a "somewhat favorable" opinion of him, compared to 18 percent of non-Catholics.

Both polls used a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov's nationally representative opinion polling.

Full results of HuffPost/YouGov poll on Pope Francis

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