Not quite a total disgrace but still disgraceful. Republican opinion remains net negative on Putin at 37/47; Trump voters are net negative on him too, and in fact are slightly more negative at 35/51. You would think Trumpers would be more willing than Republicans generally to side with Trump in seeing Putin as a potentially ally, but no. (Maybe there’s a small paleocon wing within the GOP that didn’t vote Trump for whatever reason but wants better relations with Russia.) In fact, Trump voters split 28/56 when asked if Russia is more of a friend or an enemy, but when asked how they think Trump views Russia, they split 47/29 on the same question. Clearly they’re more skeptical of Putin than their new leader is, despite him spinning for Russia endlessly in interviews.
But they’ve also clearly been influenced by his opinion. Will Jordan of YouGov crunched the numbers:
The timing there is a bit mysterious. Republican views of Putin grew only slightly more favorable from February 2015, a few months before Trump entered the race, to July 2016, when Trump officially became the party’s nominee. Then, suddenly, opinion jumped late in the summer. Why? After all, Trump had spoken warmly about better relations with Russia many times before then with no effect on Putin’s numbers. His repulsive spin job about the Russian government murdering journalists when questioned by Joe Scarborough came in December 2015, months before Republican opinion of Putin began to surge. The late summer jump in GOP opinion wasn’t a reaction to Russia’s hacking of the DNC either, which benefited Trump by airing some dirty Democratic laundry. That was already public knowledge by mid-June. Republican opinion was still strongly unfavorable towards Putin as of July.
But then something changed and opinion jumped. What was it? My best guess is that it was Trump calling on Russia to “find” Hillary Clinton’s missing emails and to publish them. That happened on July 27th and received saturation coverage from an aghast media. It may have been the first time that a lot of Republican voters, who’d paid only casual attention to the campaign to that point, had reason to note that the new GOP nominee is better disposed towards Russia than Republican nominees typically are. In other words, that may have been the first moment that Trump’s pro-Russia stance really penetrated the consciousness of the broader GOP electorate — and opinion of Putin began to move. Even so, it started to sink again as coverage of that moment faded … but then came roaring back late in the campaign before reaching new heights now. Why? Presumably because of the Wikileaks revelations about John Podesta’s emails, which originated with another Russian hack and which also ended up helping Trump. Awareness of that is at an all-time high right now, with the CIA having accused Russia of doing the hacking for the explicit purpose of trying to help Trump win the election, and the numbers have risen accordingly. That is to say, Republican opinion on Putin seems to have moved not because Trump is pro-Russia or because there’s suddenly an opportunity for better relations with Moscow. It moved because Russia interfered in the election to the Democrats’ detriment, whether that was the core motive or not. That’s the point we’ve reached in partisan polarization, apparently. Want better relations with the U.S.? Then do what you can, legal or not, to make the eventual winning party’s path to electoral victory easier.
To put that another way, the surge in favorability among Republicans for a Russian fascist and kleptocrat who’s used anti-American propaganda relentlessly to consolidate power at home may be a more or less straightforward byproduct of partisan politics. If being anti-Democrat means being pro-Putin, then apparently that’s what it means. A vivid illustration:
— Steve Koczela (@skoczela) December 14, 2016
If being anti-Democrat means being pro-Wikileaks, that’s an even easier accommodation:
Note the corresponding drop among Democrats there as Wikileaks went to work on Podesta. The funny thing about the Wikileaks numbers is that YouGov followed up by asking people whether they think the media should report news stories even when the information has been obtained illegally — like the DNC or Podesta emails — or whether they should only report news obtained through legal means. Democrats split 52/48 and independents split 50/50. Republicans split … 43/57. How you can find Strange New Respect for Vladimir Putin and Wikileaks because they did Trump a solid by tapping into Democratic servers and believe that what was on those servers shouldn’t have been reported, I don’t know. Maybe the public thinks the DNC and Podesta emails were obtained legally somehow, per some sort of FOIA request or because Podesta accidentally forwarded his entire email archive to the New York Times or something? Who the hell knows how American voters reconcile these things in their own minds anymore.