WASHINGTON, July 23 (UPI) -- Pope Francis' approval rating in the United States has significantly dropped, particularly among conservatives at odds with his views on money and climate change, a new Gallup survey shows.
Weeks ahead of his first trip to the United States, the poll shows the pope's favorability rating among a large share of Americans has dropped from 76 percent in early 2014 to the current 59 percent. That's similar to the 58 percent rating from Americans when he was elected in 2013.
Among Catholic Americans and political conservatives, the decline is even greater, the poll showed. Last year, 89 percent of American Catholics had a favorable image of the pope. Today, that stands at 71 percent. Among American conservatives, 45 percent view him favorably, down sharply from 72 percent last year.
"This decline may be attributable to the pope's denouncing of 'the idolatry of money' and linking climate change partially to human activity, along with his passionate focus on income inequality -- all issues that are at odds with many conservatives' beliefs," the poll said.
The pope's image has also taken a hit from political liberals and moderates. His rating fell 14 percent among liberals, many of whom have criticized him for not embracing a more stringent culture of change in church, including allowing priests to marry and allowing women to become priests. Many of those polled expressed "no opinion" about the pope.
"A higher percentage of Americans say they have never heard of Francis than said the same about John Paul II. However, on average, a significantly higher percentage of Americans said they had never heard of Pope Benedict, reaching 39 percent in 2005," pollsters said.
Still, Francis has generated more favor than his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who left the papacy with a 40 percent favorability rating from Americans in 2013.
Stephen Schneck, head of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at Catholic University of America in Washington, told USA Today pundits, who include Rush Limbaugh and Rachel Maddow, are "politicizing" the pope's teachings, lending to his popularity decline.
"He's not a conservative or progressive, not a Democrat or Republican. So stop trying to clobber him with those yardsticks," Schneck said. "How many times do our pundits need to be told that he's carrying the same message as John Paul II and Benedict XVI?"
Francis is set to visit the United States in September, traveling to New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. He will be the first pope to address a joint session of Congress.