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Trump’s Approval Rating Is Down. Mueller’s Is Up. Is There A Connection?

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll of the week

Since taking office, President Trump has faced an onslaught of controversies — allegations of infidelity and shady connections with Russia, backlashes to family separations at the border and criticism of the government’s hurricane response. His poll numbers, although historically low, have remained relatively steady, giving rise to the idea that nothing can move opinions of Trump. That was never really true. And a drop in Trump’s approval ratings in recent weeks is further evidence of that.

What’s behind the decline in Trump’s approval rating? It’s impossible to pinpoint the exact cause(s), but polls released this week suggest that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 election might have a role in it all.

The important thing here is the timing: On Aug. 20, Trump had a net approval rating of -10 percentage points. On Aug. 21, Paul Manafort, former chairman of Trump’s presidential campaign, was found guilty of bank and tax fraud, and Michael Cohen, who used to be Trump’s lawyer, pleaded guilty to federal crimes related to the Trump campaign. Both were implicated as a result of Mueller’s investigation. And it’s really been since then that we’ve seen the movement in Trump’s approval rating (now -14 points), the generic congressional ballot and, notably, views of the Russia investigation itself.

Let’s start with a new CNN poll that found voters, by a 20 percentage point margin, approved of Mueller (50 percent) over Trump (30 percent) when it comes to the handling of the Russia investigation. Mueller’s approval rating has expanded 9 points since CNN asked the same question in June and 3 points since it asked in early August. Trump’s approval rating, on the other hand, has jumped 1 point since June but dropped 4 points since last month.

Here’s what else the CNN poll found:

  • 61 percent of of respondents said the investigation is serious and should be fully investigated. That’s up 6 points since June and 3 points since August. Fewer people (33 percent) than in the previous two polls said the investigation is an effort to discredit Trump.
  • 72 percent said Trump should testify under oath in the investigation if he’s asked, up 4 points since June.
  • 47 percent said Trump should be impeached and removed from office, a 5-point jump since June.

These findings might be easy to dismiss if it was just one poll, but other recent polls suggest a similar trend.


  • By a margin of 55-32, voters said Mueller is conducting a fair investigation; that’s a 4-point jump from a Quinnipiac poll conducted a month ago.
  • 50 percent said they would disapprove if Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from the FBI investigation.


  • By a margin of 19 points, Americans said they approved of Mueller’s investigation 49 percent to 30 percent.
  • 39 percent of Americans said they approved of the way Mueller is handling his job. That is a 4-point jump from June.
  • 49 percent said they believe the FBI investigation into Trump is legitimate (while 35 percent said it’s a “witch hunt.”) That’s up 5 points since a June poll.

Mueller’s favorability rating was also up, since June, in three recent polls to ask about it:

Robert Mueller’s favorability rating has improved a bit
Pollster June September Change
CNN 32% 36% +4
Morning Consult 32 34 +2
YouGov 32 35 +3

That’s not a huge shift, obviously, but combined with all the data mentioned above, the polls are telling a pretty consistent story: It seems that the developments in the Mueller investigation — the Manafort and Cohen news, in particular — have increased public support for the probe. It’s hard to say whether opinions will stick or change in the coming weeks as the Russia investigation continues, but the more support Mueller has, the riskier it will be for the White House if Trump attempts to get in the way of the investigation, say by firing Sessions. Further developments in the investigation could ultimately worsen Republican congressional candidates’ position in the polls too.

Other polling nuggets

  • A series of Fox News polls testing key Senate races found Republicans ahead in Indiana, North Dakota and Tennessee and Democrats leading in Arizona and Missouri. (Check out FiveThirtyEight’s Senate forecast to see how those polls affected each race’s outlook.)
  • The Democratic candidate for governor in Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, led her Republican opponent, Bill Schuette, by 14 points in a recent Detroit News poll.
  • A Suffolk University poll found tight races in Nevada for both Senate and governor.
  • Trump’s approval rating declined by 10 points among independents in House battleground districts between June and August, according to a GOP internal poll obtained by The Associated Press.
  • In a Monmouth University poll of eight competitive House districts from June to August, Democrats did slightly better among likely voters than registered voters. (Typically, the GOP does better in likely voter polls.) Among registered voters, Democrats had a 1-point advantage, and among likely voters, they had a 4-point advantage.
  • Two-thirds of Americans rely on social media to get at least some of their news, but over half of those people expect the news on social media to be largely inaccurate, according to a Pew Research Center study.
  • Among Americans who have lost trust in media, 7 in 10 say that trust can be restored, according to a survey by Gallup and the Knight Foundation.
  • 58 percent of Americans want the senior official in the Trump administration who anonymously wrote a New York Times op-ed criticizing the president to identify himself or herself, according to a CNN poll. And 55 percent of voters in a Quinnipiac University poll said they believe senior advisers to Trump work behind his back to stop him from making bad decisions, as the op-ed claimed.
  • Just a quarter of Americans said they think it’s “extremely” or “very” important that a candidate they vote for have strong religious beliefs, according to a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. A plurality (43 percent) say it’s “not very important” or “not important at all.”
  • A YouGov survey found that 61 percent of Americans and 47 percent of Catholics think that in the past, the Catholic Church had mainly tried to cover up the sexual abuse of children. Three percent and 7 percent of those groups, respectively, said the church had mainly tried to prevent it.
  • A majority of Puerto Ricans said Trump did a “poor” job in responding to Hurricane Maria, which hit the island in September 2017, according to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey

Trump approval

Polls this week showed Trump’s approval rating holding steady after its recent decline. His net approval rating currently sits at -13.8 points, according to our tracker. (That’s a 39.9 percent approval rating and a 53.7 percent disapproval rating.) That’s about the same net approval from one week ago, when it stood at -13.7 points; 40.0 percent of Americans approved of Trump’s job performance and 53.7 percent disapproved. At this time last month, that net approval was -10.7 points — 41.8 percent approval, 52.5 percent disapproval.

Generic ballot

According to our tracker of generic congressional ballot polls, Americans currently opt for a hypothetical Democratic House candidate over a hypothetical Republican by a 9.1-point margin (48.8 percent to 39.7 percent). Democrats have gained support from one week ago, when they led by 8.4 points (48.3 percent to 39.9 percent). One month ago, the Democrats had a 7.6-point advantage, 47.4 percent to 39.8 percent.

FiveThirtyEight updates Senate forecast

Check out our 2018 House and Senate forecasts and all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the midterms.

Janie Velencia is a freelance writer focused on survey research. She previously covered the 2016 elections as the associate polling editor for The Huffington Post. Prior to that, Janie managed congressional data and wrote for CQ Roll Call.