The “Francis Effect” is Real

Pope Francis’ visit to the USA in September helped convince Americans that climate change is real and deserves a public policy response.

That is the conclusion of a new paper from Sarah Mills, Barry Rabe and Christopher Borick of the Brookings Institution based on public opinion surveys conducted before and after the Pontiff’s visit.

To be sure, other factors contribute to this trend, including the affect of droughts in the American west. But the Brookings team says that the “’Francis effect’ should not be overlooked as at least a partial contributor to growing acceptance of global warming among Americans. ”

Our data finds that 60% of Americans say they support the Pope’s call to action to address climate change.  This support is strongest among Catholics (69%) and non-evangelical Christians (66%), but even a plurality (46%) of evangelical Christians who have traditionally been most doubtful of the existence of global warming also support the Papal call-to-action (see Figure 1).  Looking at the 21% of Americans who oppose Pope Francis’ encyclical, this group includes roughly even numbers of those who doubt the existence of climate change, as well as those who believe in global warming but do not think religious leaders should discuss environmental issues.

Support and opposition for Pope’s encyclical, by religious belief


Americans, in general, are becoming more and more open to the idea that climate change is real and warrants a policy response.  The Pope’s timing to the USA was strategic. In addition to speaking to Congress and the American public, he addressed the United Nations Summit on the Sustainable Development Goals. And throughout his trip to the USA, he stressed the impact of climate change and also the importance of an ambitious climate deal in Paris.

Those talks kick off in just a few short weeks. And you can bet the Pontiff will be on hand to wield his diplomatic ninja skills to prod world leaders to reach the best agreement they can.