Poll: Plurality now says Mueller probe has been handled unfairly

Less than two months ago, Quinnipiac got a 52/32 split on whether Mueller was conducting a fair investigation. But even then, there were signs of trouble. Last November, the split was 60/27. Mueller had lost ground on public opinion as the probe wore on. Other polls around the same time also showed public interest beginning to fade. Monmouth, for instance, asked Americans in July 2017 whether they thought the Russiagate probe should continue and found 62 percent in favor versus 33 percent opposed. In April of this year, the split had slipped to 54/43.

Whether you want to credit Trump’s endless messaging war on Mueller and the DOJ for that or just public fatigue as the probe has lurched into its second year, there’s no doubt that public support is declining. Still, I don’t believe any poll has showed the balance of opinion against Mueller on any key question pertaining to Russiagate.

Until now. From Morning Consult:

Months of sustained conservative attacks led by President Donald Trump and his allies has harmed Mueller most among Republicans, with a record 53 percent now saying they view the lead Russia investigator in an unfavorable light. That’s a 26-point spike since July, when the poll first started asking voters whether they viewed Mueller favorably or unfavorably…

Voters interviewed for the POLITICO/Morning Consult poll also have changed direction on whether they think the Mueller investigation has been on the up and up. In the latest survey, 40 percent of voters said it had been handled unfairly, compared to early February when 34 percent said the probe wasn’t being handled fairly. The percentage saying the investigation was being done fairly remained unchanged from February at 38 percent.

No doubt it’s Trump’s messaging offensive against Mueller and the investigation that’s done most of the damage but Mueller’s personal unfavorability has also hit new highs among Democrats and independents at 24 and 33 percent, respectively. Anti-Russiagate sentiment is being driven by Republicans but it’s not exclusive to them. Another factor, I assume, is the lack of any major collusion-related indictments against the president or his top deputies. They got Manafort for his ultra-shady Ukraine work and Flynn pleaded to lying to a federal official, but the bread and butter of Russiagate was supposed to be some sort of high-ranking conspiracy between Team Trump and the Kremlin to sink Hillary and get Trump elected. There have been no bombshells about that. Some significant part of the public has therefore likely concluded that the investigation’s a bust. It makes me wonder what would happen if Mueller turned around tomorrow and indicted Jared Kushner or Don Jr. Would that send public opinion soaring in Mueller’s favor, upon seeing him finally deliver the goods? Or has Trump sufficiently convinced people that the probe is a “witch hunt” that indicting Jared or Junior would actually drive down opinion further?

The numbers aren’t all good for Trump, by the way. The share of Americans who say he’s tried to impede or obstruct the probe is up from 44 to 48 percent, perilously close to a majority. With so many people already convinced of obstruction on his part, Mueller concluding that POTUS committed obstruction of justice in his report to Rosenstein might have political traction. But even so, I think today’s numbers are proof that Trump has already “won” this fight: With the public increasingly sour on Mueller, barring something explosive in his final report, there just won’t be enough consensus to get an impeachment charge going in a Republican Congress. Impeachment is sufficiently perilous politically (as the GOP found out in 1998) that even Democrats will look for reasons to avoid it if they reclaim the House this fall. Congress doesn’t want to mess with the nuclear option unless public support for it is overwhelming. Maybe Dems would censure him for obstruction if they’re in charge. Republicans will do nothing.

Oh, one more detail:

Republican voters are divided over whether President Donald Trump should pardon himself if he is found guilty of a crime related to the Justice Department’s investigation into Russian influence on the 2016 election – a stark contrast with voters overall who say he should not.

A Morning Consult/Politico poll — conducted June 7-10 among 1,994 registered voters nationwide — found GOP voters split at 34 percent when asked whether Trump should pardon himself, while 32 percent said they didn’t know or had no opinion.

Republicans are already evenly divided on whether Trump could pardon himself, something he’s mentioned publicly only once or twice. Imagine what the numbers would be if he threw himself into that messaging effort, making a case day-by-day that he’s entitled to do it. 60/40, maybe? 70/30?

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David Strom 1:31 PM on September 30, 2022