Something happened between September 2015 and September 2016 to make opinions of the FBI — once an organization about which both Democrats and Republicans had generally positive views — partisan. In 2015, Pew Research Center polling shows, about 70 percent of both parties (and independents who tend to vote with either party) viewed the bureau positively. A year later, there was a 14-point gap between the parties, with Democrats much more appreciative than Republicans.
What happened? The answer to that question isn’t included in the poll, but there’s an obvious guess. What happened between September 2015 and September 2016 is that then-FBI Director James B. Comey announced that the government wasn’t going to suggest that Hillary Clinton face criminal charges for her handling of an email server. By early January, the gap had closed somewhat, with Republicans more and Democrats less supportive of the FBI — after Comey’s announcement a few days before the election that the FBI was looking into new evidence regarding the server.
Views of the FBI are now entangled with partisan opinion. Once President Trump was inaugurated, and as details about the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference and his campaign continued to emerge, Trump directly targeted the FBI as a political opponent. The effect can be seen in the graph above; less than half of Republicans now approve of the bureau.
On Tuesday, a new poll from Quinnipiac University made clear that Trump’s ability to sway his party on the FBI is the rule, not the exception. On a slew of questions related to the investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and Trump’s summit last week with Russian President Vladimir Putin, it’s almost uniformly the case that a majority of Republicans take the president’s side.
Republicans are furthest from overall national opinion on a number of questions that get at the heart of Trump’s efforts.
- While most Americans think Trump wants to do what’s best for himself, 87 percent of Republicans think he wants to do what’s best for the country.
- A plurality of Americans think Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia, but 87 percent of Republicans think it didn’t.
- Interestingly, more Americans (and more Republicans) think that Trump himself didn’t collude with Russia. The 89 percent of Republicans who hold this view is the largest percentage agreeing with Trump in the poll.
- More than half the country thinks Trump wasn’t acting in the United States’ best interest during his meeting with Putin, but 83 percent of Republicans say he was.
As the graph below shows, though, Republicans were more skeptical about specific geopolitical positions demonstrated by Trump last week.
Republicans don’t have a favorable view of Putin, and they think the United States should honor its alliance with NATO, and should demonstrate support for allies and criticism of adversaries. Republicans, like most Americans, also disagree with this tweet:
Instead, Americans agree more with the sentiment Trump offered during his news conference with Putin.
“I hold both countries responsible,” he said. “I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we’ve all been foolish.” A majority of all respondents and about 60 percent of Republicans and independents agreed that the United States and Russia shared the blame for the state of the relationship between both countries.
Those differences between the parties, though, are remarkable. Here’s what the relative support for the FBI looks like in Quinnipiac’s new poll.
Is your opinion of the FBI favorable?
The split on the most evocative question of the moment — is Russia blackmailing Trump? — is a lot wider.
Do you believe that the Russian government has compromising information about President Trump?
This, too, came up during Trump’s conversation with Putin, with Trump directly and Putin obliquely denying the idea. (“Please just disregard these issues and don’t think about this anymore again,” the Russian president said.)
Despite the denials, nearly 1 in 5 Republicans still think that Russia does have compromising information on Trump, compared with half of Americans overall.
Republicans side with the president on this issue, but probably not as much as he would like.