The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

After the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, views of Trump ... didn’t change

Supporters of former president Donald Trump wave flags outside his Mar-a-Lago home on Aug. 9, the day after he said FBI agents raided the home in Palm Beach, Fla. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

It took minutes — maybe seconds — for a consistent Republican response to emerge when news broke that former president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort had been searched by the FBI: This was an egregious, political overreach by the administration of President Biden.

Reports suggested that Trump himself was positively giddy. He’d been working relentlessly to demonstrate to the world that he still had a strong grip on the GOP, an effort demanded in part by the rise of competitors for the party’s throne. Polling showed him leading a hypothetical 2024 presidential field, but not as comfortably as once might have been expected. Then the Mar-a-Lago search happened, and even his detractors were suddenly aligning with him. Some of the more breathless Trump fans began demanding that he simply be anointed the party’s next nominee outright.

This was overly simple, but in more ways than might immediately be obvious. Support for Trump was often framed as opposition to the government. Potential 2024 opponents were taking his side, but often in an enemy-of-my-enemy way. It’s the safe harbor here, like claiming that the 2020 election was “rigged” against Trump instead of “stolen.” You can appeal to the base without having to join Trump in his mud puddle.

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A week after Mar-a-Lago, Fox News host Laura Ingraham dared to return to the case that had undergirded some skepticism about Trump’s 2024 potential.

“The country I think is so exhausted,” she said in a podcast appearance. “They’re exhausted by the battle, the constant battle, that they may believe that, well, maybe it’s time to turn the page if we can get someone who has all Trump’s policies, who’s not Trump.”

That’s a different bifurcation, but still an important one. The Trump-neutral response to Mar-a-Lago was to separate Trump from his enemies. The Trump-neutral response to 2024 is to separate Trump from Trumpism.

On Wednesday morning, YouGov released the latest iteration of the weekly polling it conducts for the Economist. It’s one of the first polls we have in which we can compare where Trump stood before Mar-a-Lago with where he is now. I was curious: Would it show that Republicans were newly enthusiastic about Trump? Had the public defense of the former president led to a noticeable surge in positive views of him?

In short: No.

In the four polls before the one released Wednesday, YouGov had Trump at an average 81 percent favorability among Republicans and 41 percent overall. In the new poll, those figures are not statistically different.

Compare that with the drop in the five polls before and after the U.S. Capitol riot. Before the riot, Trump was averaging 90 percent favorability from Republicans and 44 percent overall. In the five polls after the riot, he fell to 85 percent favorable within his own party and to 41 percent among all Americans.

YouGov breaks its favorability assessments into tiers: very favorable vs. somewhat favorable. There was a big jump in the percentage of Republicans who viewed Trump very favorably — up 11 points from a week ago. (That previous poll included one day of polling after the Mar-a-Lago search, it is important to note.) But it’s not significantly different from where Trump was at the end of July. Then, 55 percent of Republicans viewed him very favorably. Now 57 percent do.

This is an imperfect measure, certainly, evaluating not how people feel about Trump running for president or about his actions and, instead, just how they feel about him. But it does suggest that the response to Mar-a-Lago did not lead to a virulent pro-Trump surge. Perhaps, instead, the Republican response was more heavily a function of opposition to federal law enforcement or support for Trump’s politics than it was a sign of enthusiasm for the person.

Or, perhaps, we should remember that this is just one poll. By now, we all should have learned that assuming Trump is in a weaker position than it might seem is not a bet that tends to pay off.

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