Starting popularity (and growing it)

I’m a recent new player to the game. I’m finding that when I start a new game, occasionally there’s a bit of popularity and often there’s none. (So far, no matter what I do during the turns, any popularity gained goes down very quickly. My friend who plays is able to make popularity go through the roof. I’m still learning how to play the game.) I’ve uninstalled different mods and tried the sliders at the start of the game to see what effects starting popularity, and so far, I can’t find anything that helps starting popularity. The only difference between my friend and I is that I bought the two current DLCs. I have been reading and watching everything I can on the internet to find out about popularity. Any insights from you experts, please? 1. What will help starting popularity? 2. What will help retaining popularity gains?