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Donald Trump Can Win A Feud With The Pope, But Not With George W. Bush

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 23/02/2016 Ariel Edwards-Levy
ATHENA IMAGE © The Washington Post via Getty Images ATHENA IMAGE

At this point in the election cycle, it's well-established that GOP front-runner Donald Trump can say basically anything without risk of losing his supporters, or even alienating the larger Republican electorate.

"I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue, shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters," Trump said in January.

While he's yet to prove his support goes that far, he took on both the religious and political establishment last week -- in the form of the head of the Roman Catholic Church and the most recent Republican president, respectively -- and went on to handily win the South Carolina primary.

But while neither Trump's feud with Pope Francis nor his criticism of President George W. Bush proved especially detrimental to him, Republicans view the two spats quite differently.

In a new HuffPost/YouGov poll , just 10 percent of Republicans agree with Pope Francis that Trump's plan to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico is "not Christian," while 61 percent side with Trump, who called the pope's comments "disgraceful." Even Republicans who'd rather see someone other than Trump as the nominee (the majority of them, it turns out) take his side.

That's somewhat unsurprising, for two reasons. For one, most agree with him on the issue. Three-quarters of Republicans, like Trump, favor building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

For another, Republicans' opinions of the pope, already strained by his fight against climate change, have continued to decline. Last September, 53 percent of Republicans rated Pope Francis favorably. Now, just 38 percent of them do, placing him lower in their esteem than any of the remaining GOP presidential candidates .

If Republicans don't have much respect for the pope, however, they still revere Bush's legacy.

In a separate HuffPost/YouGov poll , taken last week after Trump criticized the former president's record on the Iraq War, 83 percent of Republicans give Bush a favorable rating.

Most of them strenuously disagree with Trump's contention that the war "was a big, fat mistake," and even more reject that it was started based on lies.

That's true whether those charges were mentioned with Trump's name attached to them -- the case for half of those surveyed -- or not. While that difference in framing was enough to encourage many Republicans to look favorably on liberal policy ideas endorsed by their front-runner, it had virtually no effect on their views of Iraq.

Just 27 percent of Republicans in either group consider the Iraq War a mistake, and fewer than 10 percent say that Bush lied about weapons of mass destructions to get the U.S. involved in the war. The majority still believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded in 2003.

But even if Republicans aren't happy to see Trump taking on Bush, his decision to do so doesn't seem to significantly dampen their opinions of him.

Questions about a candidate's favorability are usually asked at the beginning of a poll, to keep answers from being influenced by the questions that come afterward. In this case, though, we asked about Trump's favorability last, to see if his criticism of the pope and Bush might have soured any Republicans on him.

It turns out that 53 percent of respondents still rate him favorably, including half of the respondents who were reminded in the survey that he'd criticized Bush.

That's modestly, but not dramatically, lower than Trump's favorability ratings in most YouGov surveys, such as the most recent Economist/YouGov tracking poll, which gave him a 61 percent favorability ranking.

In other words, Trump is out of step with most Republicans on the war in Iraq, but he has yet to pick a fight that would substantially hurt his reputation in his party.

The HuffPost/YouGov polls each consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Feb. 18-21 and Feb. 19-22 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls.You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov's nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here. More details on the polls' methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov's reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample, rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.

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