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Pollsters continue to ask questions about the Russia investigation, but little effort has been made to bring their findings together for a comprehensive look at public opinion on it. In the new issue of AEI’s Political Report, we review the results of many polls conducted during and after the 2016 election on different dimensions of the investigation.
With news reports suggesting that President Donald Trump may answer questions before the Special Counsel Robert Mueller in coming weeks, we begin with public opinion on the Special Counsel and the way he is conducting the investigation.
In four recent polls around 40 percent of those surveyed did not recognize Mueller’s name or were not familiar enough with it to have an opinion. That said, recent surveys by Quinnipiac University and Pew Research Center show that people believe he is conducting a fair investigation. In a January CBS News question, 73 percent wanted President Trump to allow the investigation to continue.
Nearly half of Americans told CBS pollsters in December that the Russia investigation was of great importance to the nation. Still, the situation does not rank as a top issue for the nation in the few polls that have asked the question, and there are some concerns about whether the investigation is politically motivated. In a December CNN poll, 61 percent said Russian efforts to influence the election were a serious matter that should be fully investigated, while 34 percent said the investigation was mainly an effort to discredit Trump’s presidency. Those responses were similar in August and November. In a January Quinnipiac survey, 52 percent of registered voters said the investigation was legitimate, and 43 percent a witch hunt. Eighty-three percent of Republicans said it was a witch hunt; 79 percent of Democrats thought it was legitimate. Strong partisan divisions appear on most questions about the investigation.
Americans clearly believe Russia tried to interfere in the election. A CNN poll from July 2016 found that 48 percent thought the Russian government was attempting to influence the outcome; 44 percent said it was not. Today, majorities give this response, including, in many polls, a significant chunk of Republicans. In a January Quinnipiac poll, 68 percent of registered voters said Russia tried to influence the election. Eighty-eight percent of Democrats, 68 percent of independents, and 43 percent of Republicans gave that response.
Predictably, Democrats and Republicans are miles apart about actions of individuals in Trump’s presidential campaign. Eighty-two percent of Democrats in a November–December Quinnipiac poll of registered voters said “individuals in the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 presidential election;” 83 percent of Republicans said they did not. Independents were split, with 47 percent saying they did and 42 percent saying they did not. It isn’t clear whether the public differentiates between “collusion” and “coordination,” or between “improper” and “illegal” actions. Fifty percent of all registered voters in the November–December survey said they believed individuals in the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russian government; in another Quinnipiac survey in December, 52 percent of registered voters said they believed “the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election.” When asked by the Economist/YouGov pollsters whether they thought any member of the Trump campaign other than Trump himself did anything “improper,” 47 percent said they did, and, separately, when asked whether they thought any member of the campaign did anything “illegal,” 45 percent said they did. In questions that offered respondents the option of saying “don’t know enough to say” (NBC/Wall Street Journal) or “not sure” (Economist/YouGov), more than a quarter gave those responses.
Fewer people think Trump committed wrongful actions than think his associates did. Forty-four percent of registered voters told Quinnipiac pollsters they believed Trump colluded with the Russian government to influence the election. In the Economist/YouGov questions, 40 percent thought he did anything improper, and, separately, 37 percent thought he did anything illegal. Twenty-six percent in each of the Economist/YouGov questions said they were not sure. In the fall, 49 percent told ABC News/Washington Post pollsters that Trump committed a crime in connection with possible Russian attempts to influence the election. Of that group, 19 percent said there is solid evidence, while 30 percent said it was their suspicion only. Eighty-two percent of Republicans said it was unlikely he committed a crime; 74 percent of Democrats said it was likely he did. In another December Quinnipiac question, 36 percent said Trump did something illegal, 27 percent said he did something unethical but nothing illegal, and 30 percent said he did nothing wrong.
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