WASHINGTON – Pope Francis' comments Thursday that Donald Trump is "not a Christian" if he supports a wall along the Mexican border put the Republican presidential contender in the uncomfortable position of being pitted against a more popular political figure, according to recent polling on the pope's standing among Americans and American Catholics.
But the poll, conducted in October by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, finds the pope to be a relatively unknown quantity to many Americans and suggests his clout when it comes to influencing American political opinions may be limited. The poll followed the pope's U.S. visit in September.
Here are some things to know about public opinion on Pope Francis from the AP-NORC poll:
POPE POPULAR — AMONG THOSE WHO KNOW HIM
The pope was viewed more favorably than unfavorably by Catholics, 59 percent to 15 percent, and by Americans generally, 44 percent to 13 percent, though 4 in 10 Americans said they didn't know enough about the pope to form an opinion.
By contrast, an AP-GfK poll this month found 58 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of Trump and just 32 percent have a favorable opinion.
LIMITED POLITICAL INFLUENCE
The pope's ability to shape U.S. public opinion may be limited. The October poll found no impact on the views of American Catholics or Americans generally on climate change after his visit, which focused largely on global warming as a moral issue.
The poll found only about a third of Americans, and a similar proportion of Catholics, considered global warming to be a moral issue, unchanged since before the pope's visit. Even fewer considered it an issue related to religion or to poverty.
According to the survey, two-thirds of Americans generally and Catholics specifically think global warming is happening, and most said it is caused at least in part by human activities. But that was also unchanged since before the pope's visit.
The poll found that just 14 percent of Americans, and just 32 percent of Catholics, had closely followed the pope's U.S. visit. Just 36 percent of Americans and 47 percent of Catholics had heard anything about the pope's encyclical on global warming.
UNKNOWN QUANTITY ON IMMIGRATION
The AP-NORC poll found most Americans had no strong opinion on Francis' handling of immigration issues.
Among all Americans, 24 percent approved and 14 percent disapproved of his handling of immigration, but more than 6 in 10 Americans said they neither approved nor disapproved, or had no opinion. Among Catholics, 37 percent said they approved and 16 percent disapproved, but nearly half had no strong opinion either way.
The pope fared better on poverty, a particularly strong point for him in the poll. American Catholics overwhelmingly approved of his handling of poverty, 56 percent to 7 percent. Americans as a whole approved more than disapproved of his handling of the issue by a 38 percent to 9 percent margin, but just over half had no opinion.
MIXED OPINIONS ON OTHER ISSUES
The poll found Americans about evenly split on the pope's handling of abortion, along with church doctrine on gays and lesbians. About 2 in 10 approved and 2 in 10 disapproved of his handling of each issue, though Catholics were more likely to approve than disapprove in each case.
Americans were slightly more likely to approve than disapprove of Francis' position against the death penalty, 21 percent to 14 percent. Catholics' opinions on that issue were not much different.
The AP-NORC Poll of 1,058 adults was conducted Oct. 15-18, 2015, using a sample drawn from NORC's probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods, and later interviewed online or by phone.
AP-NORC Center: http://www.apnorc.org/