If you need to believe that Republicans don’t really want Putin’s help in winning an election, you can write these numbers off as simple knee-jerk partisanship in the middle of a campaign. The more heat Trump takes from the left on any subject, the more tightly the wagons will be circled around him. It’s red/blue tribalism, nothing more. Although if partisanship on this issue is that strong, why wouldn’t it also be strong enough for GOPers to pray for an October surprise courtesy of Uncle Vladimir?
There’s another possibility: What if the phrasing of the question is flawed? Trump never used the word “uncover,” which, in the context of cyberespionage, may mean something more sinister to the average joe than the word “find,” which Trump did use. “Uncover” suggests digging something up that’s been hidden. “Find” is less proactive in that it includes searching for something that may be out there in plain sight. If you want to parse the word choice here very closely, you could argue that YouGov’s question gives the false impression that Trump was asking Russia to hack Hillary prospectively. That would explain why Democrats and independents in the poll are so strongly against him.
But if that’s your read, then you’re stuck explaining why Republicans lean so hard the other way. If YouGov gamed the question by hinting incorrectly that Trump called for something more sinister than he actually did, then Republicans presumably heard the question that way too. And yet here we are, at 61 percent support.
An interesting follow-up:
Note that the Democratic and independent numbers are a bit less lopsided, which seems counterintuitive. If those groups thought it was inappropriate for Trump to ask Russia to “uncover” the emails, shouldn’t they also think Trump is too friendly to Russia? The reason for the disjunction, I think, is that many voters don’t follow the news closely enough to know what Trump has said about Russia beyond the email uproar this week. How many people have heard that he’s mused about cutting NATO loose? How many people know what NATO is? Many have no firm idea of his foreign policy, even though we’re more than a year into his campaign; if you doubt that, compare the “not sure” columns in this table to the one above. The interesting question is how many of those who do have an opinion on Trump and Russia are basing that on an informed judgment and how many are just winging it like one of the dummies in Jimmy Kimmel’s man-on-the-street interviews. Are 57 percent of Republicans really comfortable with Trump’s warmth towards the Putin regime or are most of them clueless and simply giving the safe answer to support the nominee? There’s a lot riding on that for the future of the GOP. And of course the U.S.