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The People's Pope: American Catholics Align With Pope Francis

Results from a new online survey commissioned by the Shriver Report, show that a majority of American Catholics agree with Pope Francis' less-than-traditional message.
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While it is too soon to say whether Pope Francis’ speech will be well received by Congress, a new online survey shows that American Catholics are likely to agree with his less-than-traditional message.

"The Shriver Report Snapshot: Insight Into the Conscience of the Complex Catholic" found that 86 percent of respondents align highly with the Pope’s message on income inequality and the environment over controversial issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. From that majority, an overwhelming 84 percent said they attended church weekly and 77 percent described themselves as conservatives.

Only 14 percent said Pope Francis was moving the Church away from its traditional focus. Full results from "The Shriver Report Snapshot: Insight Into the Conscience of the Complex Catholic" will be released exclusively Monday on "TODAY."

The Pope will address Congress on Thursday morning, the first time a pope has ever spoken to a joint session. Republicans, who shepherd the flock of Evangelicals to their base, may conflict with a pope who has tried to get the world to focus on environmental issues over more controversial social issues.

“I think Catholics were tired of the discussion about those other issues,” Maria Shriver said on "Meet the Press." “Our poll, it showed that they find that his teachings very closely align with theirs, and that they want political figures to also talk about these subjects.”

Pope Francis has become a political maverick in his own right, most recently facilitating talks between President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro in 2014. The outcome of that effort restored a diplomatic relationship between the countries.

Almost 50 percent of Catholics polled viewed Pope Francis as a political figure, while 44 percent saw him as serving a dual role as a religious and political leader.

While over a majority of Americans still consider the Catholic Church to be conservative, those polled see the pope’s ideology more in their likeness. Forty-eight percent of Catholics who identify as liberal consider the pope to be a liberal, while moderates and conservatives see him align more with their beliefs, 38 to 37 percent respectively.

“They like him much better than the quote, "institution," or the church he represents. So I think that there's a lot that political leaders can learn,” Shriver said. “He's an outsider, people call him a prophet, that he's the people's pope. And yet, he's kept the people in the pews.”

From August 28 to September 2, 2015, Hart Research and Echelon Insights conducted an online survey among 1,000 Catholics nationwide. The firms contracted with a third-party vendor, Research Now, to send invitations to its panel of 2.3 million respondents. The survey is nationally representative of the adult population of Catholics age 18 and older and comports with publicly available demographic and polling data for that population. An online survey that is self- administered particularly is useful for a survey such as this that explores potentially controversial and sensitive topics such as attitudes about religion, faith, and sex. Hart Research, a Democratic polling firm, conducted this study in partnership with the Republican firm Echelon Insights and the firm’s co-founder and partner, Kristen Soltis Anderson.