YouGov: FBI's popularity plunges since February as plurality of independents now view agency unfavorably

The numbers here are tricky since there are a lot of people in the “not sure” column, probably because they’re not following the migraine-inducing Emailgate and Russiagate sagas closely enough to form a strong opinion.

But the trend is clear enough.

Is it the months of “witch hunt!” messaging by POTUS that did it or was it the lightning-bolt “we’ll stop it” text from Peter Strzok uncovered by the IG?

The FBI might be the biggest loser: the percentage with a favorable opinion of the Bureau has dropped 11 points since February. The drop comes from all partisan groups – Republicans, Democrats and independents, with Republicans having the most negative views.

Most Republicans believe the agency is biased – towards Hillary Clinton (68%) during the email investigation, and against Donald Trump (67%) today in the Russia investigation. Most Democrats believe there is no bias in the Russia investigation, though fewer say that about the Clinton probe, with as many saying the FBI was biased against Clinton as say it was unbiased.

It’s not just that the FBI’s favorability has declined, it’s that it sunk from a 52/29 majority in favor of the agency in February to a narrow 43/35 plurality now. It’s no longer the case that most Americans view the federal government’s chief law enforcement arm, which presents itself as the consummate by-the-book professional police force, in a positive light. And as I note in the headline, it’s not just Republicans who feel that way. Overwhelmingly it’s GOPers who are driving the FBI’s downturn, of course, moving from a 42/46 divide on the FBI in February to a 37/50 split now. But support among independents has also slipped precipitously — even more than among Republicans, in fact. In February indies viewed the FBI favorably by a 12-point margin, 48/36. Today? It’s 33/36. The Bureau’s lost 15 points, thanks mainly to Strzok and, I assume, the Comey book tour.

YouGov also asked if the FBI is biased against (or for) Trump on Russiagate. Results: Mixed bag except, of course, among Republicans.

Strictly speaking, “biased against Trump” is the plurality position there, although a larger combined percentage say that there’s either no bias or that the agency is actually biased *towards* Trump. POTUS should consider the Democratic split here as a moral victory, though: After Comey’s presser in July 2016 and then the infamous letter at the end of October, can you imagine Democrats ever reaching the point where they’re about equal on whether the FBI is biased against Trump versus whether it’s biased for him? Fully 62 percent of Dems answered yes when YouGov asked them if they thought Comey’s actions on Emailgate affected the outcome of the election, a position endorsed by, among others, Hillary Clinton herself. And yet when asked where the balance of bias lies here, only 14 percent say it’s in favor of Trump. In other words, Trump — and Comey and Strzok — have convinced a lot of people in the other party that the alleged pro-Trump bias in Emailgate somehow hasn’t translated over to Russiagate.

YouGov didn’t ask specifically about Strzok but it did ask about Comey, specifically whether he handled Emailgate “properly” or “improperly.” Hoo boy:

There was something for everyone to hate in Comey’s actions. Dems hate him for holding that press conference and, above all, for sending the letter. Republicans hate him for not recommending charges against Hillary (and, of course, because Trump hates him for not cutting Mike Flynn a break). But don’t underestimate knee-jerk partisanship as the driving force here. Republicans are much more likely to say POTUS should have fired Comey over Emailgate (67 percent) than Democrats are (28 percent) despite the balance of logic that should favor higher Democratic support. Dems must oppose a controversial action taken by Trump just as Republicans must support it.

Here’s Trey Gowdy reacting in real time to Strzok’s attorney claiming that he’s a victim of, ah, partisan bias. Gowdy can’t wait to interrogate this guy. One more bit from the poll: When YouGov asked people whether they approve or disapprove of the FBI’s handling of Russiagate, the partisan response was practically mirror-image. Dems are at 57/17, Republicans are at 18/59. Independents, however, lean towards the GOP at 25/33. Gowdy’s been making the point in interviews lately that evidence of Strzok’s bias is disastrous for Mueller, perhaps bad enough to render some subjects of the investigation unconvictable. The public may be coming around to that position. If a growing number think the FBI has mishandled the probe, how likely is it that a jury will either disagree or ignore that possibility and convict anyway? How likely is it that there’ll be 218 votes in the House for impeachment under these circumstances?