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Independents Trust Mueller, Which Could Be Bad News For Trump

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll of the week

A new survey has found that most Americans trust special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 election — although opinion is sharply split along partisan lines. Yet Mueller still receives higher marks than 1990s independent counsel Ken Starr, who faced a similar partisan divide. If party loyalty hasn’t changed in the past 20 years, what has? The views of independent voters.

According to a Washington Post-Schar School poll released this week, 51 percent of adults approve of the way Mueller is handling the investigation, while 34 percent disapprove. Similarly, 57 percent think Mueller is mostly interested in uncovering the truth, while 36 percent think he’s out to hurt President Trump politically. By contrast, a majority of Americans thought Starr was mainly interested in hurting then-President Bill Clinton politically in the Whitewater investigation.

During both the Starr and Mueller probes, members of the president’s party were convinced that the investigators had the knives out for their president, and members of the opposition party believed the investigators had noble intentions. Since the partisan divides are similar in both cases, independent voters are the main drivers behind the difference in overall public opinion. In 1998, as the Whitewater investigation was wrapping up, 59 percent of independents told the Post that they thought Starr’s investigation was politically motivated. This year, 57 percent said they have faith in Mueller.

The poll also suggests that independents may be the deciding factor in whether the public supports Trump’s impeachment, if it comes to that. Per the Post poll, if Mueller’s report finds that Trump obstructed justice by trying to undermine the Russia investigation, Americans believe — 65 percent to 29 percent — that Congress should impeach Trump and try to remove him from office.1 And if the report concludes that Trump authorized his campaign staff to collude with Russia, Americans support impeachment and attempted removal by a similar margin: 61 percent to 33 percent.

Those numbers may seem surprisingly high. But impeachment is a political process and, quite frankly, a partisan one. According to this poll and many others, most Democrats already support beginning impeachment proceedings against Trump — so right off that bat, that’s a sizable chunk of the country in favor. And this poll added a conditional to its question: “If Mueller’s report concludes….” Since independents mostly see Mueller as a fair judge, it makes sense that most of them would support impeachment if Mueller finds grounds for it. And indeed they do, at least in this poll: 61 percent support impeachment if Trump approved coordination with the Russian government, and 68 percent support impeachment if he obstructed justice.

By contrast, independents were not on board with attempts to remove Clinton from office, even after Starr’s report recommended impeachment. A Post/ABC News poll from December 1998 found that three out of four independents said that Clinton should not be removed from office. Most Republicans wanted Clinton removed, while most Democrats wanted him to stay put. Overall, support for removal sat at just 33 percent.

A key difference may have been that Americans, especially independents, were not convinced that Starr had proved his case. The public widely believed that the inclusion of explicit sexual details in the Starr report was inappropriate, and, as previously mentioned, independents did not believe Starr was conducting an impartial investigation. It’s possible that, if the Mueller report is publicly released, people will find his conclusions similarly lacking. But the questions from this week’s poll suggest that the public would believe Mueller if he concludes Trump committed a crime. Of course, that’s a big if; should Mueller stop short of such a declaration, it’s a safe bet that support for impeachment would not be in the 60s.

Other polling nuggets

  • According to another Washington Post-Schar School poll, 47 percent of Virginians think their governor, Democrat Ralph Northam, should resign in the wake of the revelation that there is a racist photo on his page in his 1984 medical school yearbook. Another 47 percent said Northam should remain in office. Northam originally apologized and said he was one of the people in the photo (which features one person in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe). But Northam reversed himself the next day. He currently maintains he was not in the photo but has admitted to wearing blackface on a different occasion.
  • A poll conducted for The New York Times Upshot by Morning Consult found that 5 percent of U.S. adults admitted to wearing blackface at some point in their lives. Twenty percent said they’d seen someone wearing blackface.
  • According to a different Morning Consult survey, for Politico, Republicans are more willing than Democrats to vote for a politician from their own party who has been accused of either wearing blackface or committing sexual misconduct. However, committing tax fraud and misusing taxpayer dollars, among some other scandals, were about equally likely to be deal-breakers for members of both parties.
  • According to a survey by HuffPost/YouGov, 42 percent of Americans think the Democratic Party is too extreme. Forty percent think the Republican Party is too extreme. But in both cases, those people tend to be members of the opposite party; only 12 percent of members of each party find their own party too extreme. And only 11 percent of Americans think both parties are too extreme.
  • ScottRasmussen.com and HarrisX found that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the most popular Supreme Court justice, based on the share of registered voters who say they have a “very” or “somewhat” favorable view of her (43 percent). Brett Kavanaugh is the best-known justice — only 9 percent of respondents have never heard of him — but that fame comes at a cost: He also has the highest unfavorable rating of any justice, with 34 percent viewing him in a negative light. Stephen Breyer has the lowest name recognition of any justice; 32 percent said they’ve never heard of him.
  • Amazon has canceled its plan to build a headquarters in New York City in the face of opposition from residents and some politicians. However, a Siena College poll of registered voters in New York state that was released before Thursday’s announcement found that 56 percent approved of the package of tax incentives that New York used to lure the company, while 36 percent disapproved. In New York City alone, 58 percent approved and 35 percent disapproved.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 41.5 percent approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 54.1 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -12.6 points). At this time last week, 40.1 percent approved and 55.3 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -15.2 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 40.7 percent and a disapproval rating of 54.4 percent, for a net approval rating of -13.7 points.



From ABC News:


Footnotes

  1. If the House votes to impeach the president, he would then be tried in the Senate. Trump would be removed from office only if a two-thirds majority of the Senate votes to convict.

Nathaniel Rakich is FiveThirtyEight’s elections analyst.

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