On Russia, Americans trust special counsel Mueller more than Trump, USA TODAY poll shows
Rick Gates, a former top adviser to President Donald Trump's election campaign, pleads guilty to federal conspiracy and false statements charges in the special counsel's Russia investigation. (Feb. 23) AP
WASHINGTON — When it comes to Russia, Americans have more trust in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation than they do in President Trump's denials of collusion, a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll finds.
By wide margins, those surveyed are convinced that Russians meddled in the 2016 presidential election and that they will try it again. More than four in 10 believe Moscow's interference affected the outcome of the election that put Trump in the White House.
The poll of 1,000 registered voters, taken after Mueller's team indicted 13 Russians and three companies on criminal charges, spotlight the potential perils ahead for the president if he ends up in a showdown with the special counsel. A 58% majority say they have a lot or some trust in Mueller's investigation, while a 57% majority say they have little or no trust in Trump's denials.
"I think he's doing a heck of a job," John Shaw, 60, of Madison, Wis., said of Mueller. "He's not leaking anything. He's going piece by piece, methodically putting this whole thing together."
Lauryne Haynes, a retiree from Farmington Hills, Mich., who also was called in the survey, puts her faith in the president. "I think that Trump had nothing to do with Russian meddling," she said in a follow-up interview. "He understands the situation that they are not our friends. I think he's truthful and I think he's sincere about wanting the best for the country."
The poll, taken by landline and cell phone Tuesday through Saturday, has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
Three of four of those surveyed, 75%, say they take the charges filed by Mueller seriously; most of them say they take them "very" seriously. Just one in five, 20%, dismiss them as not particularly serious.
That represents some shift in views over the past year. In a USA TODAY/Suffolk Poll in March 2017, nearly one-third of those surveyed, 31%, said they saw the issue of Russian meddling as not very serious or not at all serious. Then, 63% called it very or somewhat serious.
In the new poll, nearly seven in 10, 69%, say they believe Russians made a serious effort to meddle in the 2016 election. Fewer than one in five doubt that.
"They didn't try to meddle; they did meddle," says Nicholas Krasney, 30, of Los Angeles. "And of course they affected the election, but whether they affected the outcome of the election, I can't say."
On that issue, there is an almost even split: 42% say Russian meddling affected the outcome of the election; 44% say it didn't.
Views on that question reflect a sharp partisan divide. Democrats by more than 3-1, 69%-20%, say Russian meddling affected the election's results. Republicans by more than 7-1, 81%-11%, say it didn't.
"Russia had an effect just by creating the divisiveness and really dividing the country into two shouting matches, from what I saw happen," said Joyce Kaysor, 61, an accountant from Millsboro, Del., said in a follow-up interview.
But William Hartgrove, 56, a systems engineer from Liberty Hill, Tex., said the election turned on other factors. "I think the candidate the Democrats pushed forward had a great deal more to do with that," he said. Even so, he praised Mueller's probe as worthwhile. "We can't have our elections sold to any nation willing to invest a lot of money."
There is a broad consensus, 76%-17%, that Russians will continue to try to meddle in American elections. Six in 10 say Trump isn't doing enough to respond to that.
The indictments of the Russian individuals and companies were an important step, said Sheila Buckingham, 70, a retiree from Huntington Beach, Calif. "It sends a message that the U.S. is serious," she said.
Mueller's level of credibility is significant because of attacks by Trump and his allies on the professionalism and nonpartisanship of the special counsel, the FBI and the Justice Department. Now, 31% express "a lot" of trust in Mueller and 27% "some" trust; 28% have little or no trust.
In comparison, 24% have "a lot" of trust in Trump's denials of collusion and 12% have "some" trust; 57% have little or no trust.
Neither Trump nor Mueller has a particularly robust favorable rating: 34% for Trump, 37% for Mueller. But Trump's unfavorable rating is 59%, giving him a net negative rating of 25 percentage points. Mueller's unfavorable rating is 23%, giving him a net positive rating of 14 points.
Only 8% say they have are undecided or have never heard of Trump. For Mueller, 28% don't know enough to have an opinion, at least not yet.