Official Washington certainly cares about the sudden firing of James Comey. The media has focused on almost nothing else, other than the series of shifting and fumbling explanations coming out of the White House about Donald Trump’s motivations for cashiering Comey. Given the high-profile nature of the position and the ongoing investigations into the 2016 election, one could assume that the firing would have Americans gripped by the latest developments.
And … one would be wrong, according to a new poll from NBC and the Wall Street Journal. Almost a third of all Americans don’t have an opinion about it, and Trump’s approval rating has barely budged even in the midst of the “crisis.” And even among those who have kept up with the story, the firing gets a mixed response:
Just 29 percent of Americans say they approve of President Donald Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, while 38 percent disapprove, according to results from a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. Another 32 percent of respondents don’t have enough to say on the matter.
Yet among those who say they have read, seen or heard “a lot” about the firing, 53 percent say they disapprove, versus 33 percent who approve.
The NBC/WSJ poll — conducted May 11-13, after Trump’s dismissal of Comey — doesn’t show a significant change in the president’s overall standing. Trump’s job-approval rating stands at 39 percent, which is one point lower than last month’s NBC/WSJ survey — well within the poll’s margin of error.
It’s not just Trump’s job approval rating that remained steady. His overall personal rating went from 39/50 to 38/52 since last month, statistically no change at all. Despite the massive coverage last week of the Comey firing, and the fact that this survey took place at the end of that week (Thursday through Saturday), nothing much has changed for Trump. This also jibes with a Gallup poll published on Friday, which saw a 39/46 split on Comey’s firing while also having no impact at all on Trump’s approval rating. “[F]or now there has been no change in public approval of the president,” the polling memo concluded, “which has been steady near 41% in the three days since Comey’s removal.”
How can that be? Well, for one thing, Comey himself isn’t terribly well liked — or known. He gets a personal rating of 18/26 in the survey, with more than half of Americans saying they don’t know enough to say. Comey’s not exactly a marquee brand, and among those who pay closer attention, not especially well regarded either, fair or not. That’s almost certainly because of the beating he took publicly from politicians of both parties, but especially Democrats since the election. National politicians have undermined Comey’s credibility, with Hillary Clinton taking the lead on that effort, and that left Comey without much political support at all.
But perhaps there’s a simpler explanation for the lack of impact. To put it bluntly: James Comey has nothing to do with the lives of most Americans. To them, this is a process story; someone got fired from a political appointment, and someone will eventually replace him. The FBI didn’t get dismantled, and neither did any of its investigations. It’s inside baseball, a Beltway story, and most Americans aren’t terribly interested in those stories. They want to see changes that fix problems and improve lives in their communities, and the volcano of hypocrisy that erupted from Washington DC over Comey’s firing reminds them of why they don’t care about process stories.
That doesn’t mean that Comey’s firing isn’t a legitimate story, or even a legitimate concern. At some point, the story may catch fire with Americans outside of the media bubbles. So far, though, the interest and outrage largely appears to be limited to the 202, 212, and 213 area codes — much like the media’s connections to voters in the 2016 election cycle.