Poll: Plurality of Republicans believe the Mueller report totally exonerated Trump on obstruction of justice

It doesn’t surprise me that Republicans who say they’ve “watched a lot of coverage” of the report are more, rather than less, likely to believe Trump was totally exonerated on obstruction than the average Republican is even though it’s not true. Odds are, they’re watching Fox. And not the Shep/Chris Wallace dayside newsy hours of Fox either.

It does surprise me that Republicans who say they’ve read parts of the report are also more likely than the average Republican to believe it. Probably the single most famous line from the report’s 400+ pages is, “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.” Mueller went to the trouble of repeating that line on television a month later at his press conference as an extra nudge to House Democrats and the public that they should be troubled by the obstruction findings.

Did righties forget to read the obstruction section?

The entire reason House Democrats are so eager to have Mueller testify this month is because they’re aware of this disjunction between what Mueller said and what people, especially Republicans, believe. Only 19 percent of Americans in this poll admitted to having read all or most of the report. If you want Mueller’s conclusions to penetrate, they have to be repackaged as video clips and transmitted to the public via the media circus that will attend his testimony on July 17. Or so Dems hope. I’m skeptical that it’ll change much.

As to why Republicans might be confused about Mueller’s “no exoneration” verdict on obstruction, there are different possibilities:

1. Barr did exonerate Trump on obstruction in his summary of Mueller’s report, of course. Maybe GOPers were treating this question less as a test of what Mueller said than what the DOJ ultimately decided as an institution.

2. Some may not have paid close enough attention to the question to notice they were being asked about obstruction, not collusion. If all they heard was “Did Mueller exonerate Trump?”, they may have focused on the collusion part of the report in answering “yes.”

3. Maybe out-and-out disinformation from partisan media sites convinced them that Mueller really did clear Trump on obstruction, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

4. Trump repeated the “total exoneration” talking point a lot in the first few days after Barr’s summary was released. Whether that message convinced Republicans and colored their impressions of what’s in the report or whether they’re merely parroting Trump’s point back to pollsters to be good soldiers, it’s the Trump factor at work. Relatedly, when asked if they thought Russia interfered in the election — the most unambiguous finding in Mueller’s report — Republicans split just 51/49. “What’s the best answer for Trump?” will obviously weigh on partisans’ minds when they answer questions about this.

Is there a term, by the way, to describe when someone gives a pollster the answer that their party would want them to give, whether or not that’s their honest opinion? There are all sorts of reasons why people sometimes aren’t honest with pollsters; a famous one is “social desirability bias.” We live in an age, though, in which public awareness of polling and its ability to drive the news and influence political parties’ strategy has probably never been greater. Favorable polls are touted routinely in activist political media on both sides. The president tweets often (and selectively) about his own polls and has encouraged supporters to disregard unfavorable polls as fake news. The polls famously failed to detect Trump’s looming victory in 2016 even though they got close to predicting Hillary’s popular vote win. The more that Americans see polls overtly as tools of partisan information warfare, the more likely they are, it seems to me, to answer poll questions in line with what their parties want them to say — what they’re “supposed” to say — than what the might really think. That might explain the outsized GOP number here claiming that Mueller totally exonerated Trump on obstruction. As well as why Trump has nearly unanimous job approval and disapproval in polls of Republicans and Democrats, respectively.