There is at least one point on which a majority of Americans agree as it relates to the recently completed investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. According to new Washington Post-ABC News polling, more than half of Americans believe that the final report written by Mueller and his team, a redacted version of which was released last week, was fair and evenhanded in its approach to the subject matter.
What’s interesting about those results is that they aren’t what people expected. In a January Post-ABC poll, a plurality of respondents said they had some or no confidence that the report would be evenhanded and fair, a result driven by 7 in 10 Republicans expressing that little confidence. Twenty-two percent of Republicans had a great deal or good amount of confidence it would be fair — but now that it’s out, more than half think it is.
So we land at the unexpected consensus: Mueller’s report is fair. And then things diverge.
As documented in the report, the investigation centered on two questions. First, did members of President Trump’s 2016 campaign coordinate with Russia’s efforts to interfere in that year’s election in a way that constituted a provable crime? Second, what evidence exists that Trump tried to interfere with the investigation that sought to answer that question?
Trump’s answer to both of those questions is succinct: no collusion and no obstruction. The report, he said, after Attorney General William P. Barr released a summary of Mueller’s findings, was a complete exoneration of him and his campaign. But Mueller didn’t determine that there was no collusion, specifically sidestepping that term. Nor did he clear Trump on obstruction, explicitly declaring that the evidence didn’t amount to exoneration on that point.
It’s nuanced, but not so much that the point was lost. More than half of respondents in the Post-ABC poll indicated that they believed the investigation didn’t clear the president of all wrongdoing. That includes 87 percent of Democrats and, interestingly, a quarter of Republicans.
Even among those who said they approved of Trump’s job performance, 15 percent said that the Mueller report didn’t completely clear the president. In a separate question, Americans were split on whether Trump interfered with the investigation in a way that constituted obstruction of justice. Most of those who thought he had obstructed justice supported beginning an impeachment process.
Most Americans also said that the report didn’t change their view of the Trump administration — a remarkable response, given that most people also said that the report was fair and evenhanded. Most Democrats and most Republicans saw the report as fair, but most Republicans and Democrats also didn’t see anything in it to change their minds. The implication is that many people took from the lengthy report only what they wanted.
It’s worth noting, though, that a lot of people — about a third — did say their minds were changed. About a quarter of Republicans said that it made them view the administration more favorably. Four in 10 Democrats said it made them see the administration more negatively. Interestingly, 9 percent of Republicans said the same thing: that the report gave them a more negative view of Trump.
Republicans who now view Trump more positively outnumbered those who now view him more negatively by more than 2 to 1 — but the number of Democrats who now view him more negatively outnumbered those who now view him more positively by more than 20 to 1.
None of this did much to move Trump’s approval rating. It’s about where it was in January.
How is it, you might ask, that a quarter of Republicans — who solidly approve of Trump — think that he’s incorrect about what the report says? Well, the new poll gets at that, too. More than half of Americans say that they think Trump lied to the public about the subjects of Mueller’s probe. That includes about 1 in 5 Republicans.
It’s not new that Americans think Trump isn’t entirely honest. A majority of the country has consistently viewed him as not honest or trustworthy in Post polling since he first declared his candidacy. That group has included about a fifth of Republicans, too. The new Post-ABC poll, though, has a particularly interesting finding on that front. About 1 in 10 of those who approve of Trump’s job performance, including a third of those who only somewhat approve of the job he’s doing, think he lied about the Mueller probe.
There are two conclusions we can draw from these poll results. The first is that Mueller and his team did a good job of completing the investigation in a way that Americans could accept. Barr’s initial letter establishing that the probe generally cleared Trump probably helped make this happen.
The second is that America is in broad disagreement about what the investigation actually found.