The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

GOP voters warm to Russia, Putin, WikiLeaks, poll finds

A woman passes by graffiti depicting the Russian President Vladimir Putin and President-elect Donald Trump in a suburb of Belgrade, Serbia. (Darko Vojinovic/Associated Press)

After Donald Trump seized the Republican presidential nomination, pollsters found the party's voters shifting their opinions on trade to match up with the candidate. On Wednesday, new polling by YouGov finds a similar phenomenon moving Republican views of WikiLeaks and Russian President Vladimir Putin, with the party's voters increasingly fond of both.

The Economist-YouGov poll, which has tracked partisan sentiment about WikiLeaks since 2013, now finds a majority of Republicans viewing the organization favorably. In the summer of 2013, WikiLeaks was viewed more negatively than positively by Republicans by a 47-point margin; Democrats, by a 3-point margin, also viewed it negatively. Now, Republicans view WikiLeaks favorably by a 27-point margin, a 74-point swing; Democrats have swung against it by just 25 points.

That's probably a result of the presidential campaign, which closed with 33 days of WikiLeaks dumps from the stolen emails of Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta. On the stump, Trump frequently drew applause simply by saying the word “WikiLeaks,” then drew more as he gave a quick-and-dirty version of an allegation from the emails. “Boy, we love WikiLeaks!” he told a mid-October crowd in North Carolina. Despite steady media coverage of the stolen emails, Trump also accused the press of suppressing their revelations.

Trump was not alone on the right. WikiLeaks stories rippled through conservative media, and some WikiLeaks revelations — like an exchange between liberal Catholic Clinton campaign staff in which they criticized their church leadership — were advanced or hyped by fitful Trump critics like House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.).

There's been similar movement on the Putin question. In the summer of 2014, both Democrats and Republicans held negative views of the Russian president. His net negative rating with Democrats was 54 points; with Republicans, it was 66 points. At the time, the mainstream Republican foreign policy opinion was that a wily, aggressive Putin was rolling over U.S. interests in Europe. There was some punditry about Putin as a greater leader than President Obama, but it did not shift views of Putin himself.

Trump's campaign did so. There's been a 56-point positive shift among Republicans in their views of Putin; his net negative rating is now just 10 points. While Clinton voters view Putin negatively by 72 points, Trump voters do so by a slim 16-point margin.

During the campaign, Democratic attacks on Trump for his praise of Russia and Putin drew media attention but didn't appear to move voters. Among the reasons: Many of the Republican voters seen as gettable by Democrats were more ready to shift their views of Russia than shift their views of Clinton.