A majority of Americans believe President Trump has done something either illegal or unethical when it comes to Russia, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.
The 54 percent of people who believe something untoward has gone on include a quarter who believe the president has done something illegal in regards to his dealings with Russia, and 29 percent of Americans who think he has done something unethical, but not illegal. Thirty-six percent of Americans believe Trump has done nothing wrong. Those numbers reflect an increase in the number of Americans believing something either illegal or unethical went on compared to a February 2017 Marist survey when 49 percent of Americans thought the president had done something either illegal or unethical in regards to Russia.
There's a deep partisan divide in the country when it comes to investigations into Trump's relationship with Russia and whether he or his campaign associates did anything wrong. Republicans have overwhelmingly put their trust in Trump in his approach to Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, whom Trump is scheduled to meet with on Friday. But Democrats and, to a lesser degree, independents are increasingly convinced there was some type of wrongdoing or ethical breach.
Seventy-three percent of Republicans say Trump himself has done nothing wrong, with 15 percent saying he has done something unethical but not illegal, and just 4 percent say he has done something illegal.
Democrats and independents, however, hold very different opinions. Forty-one percent of Democrats believe Trump himself has done something illegal, and 39 percent say he has done something unethical but not illegal. Just 13 percent think he has done nothing wrong.
Independents' views are more split. Thirty-two percent of independents say Trump has done nothing wrong, while 31 percent say he has done something unethical but not illegal and 27 percent believe he has done something illegal.
"When it comes to Russia, the lenses of Democrats and Republicans have a very different tint," said Lee Miringoff, director of The Marist Institute for Public Opinion.
Fifty-eight percent of Americans think that Trump's campaign associates were somehow complicit in something improper regarding Russia. That includes a 33 percent plurality that believe Trump campaign associates did something illegal, while 1 in 4 think the campaign's associates did something unethical but not illegal. Twenty-nine percent think the campaign's associates did nothing wrong.
Among Republicans, 62 percent think the Trump campaign's associates did nothing wrong, while 17 percent think they did something unethical but not illegal and 7 percent think something illegal happened.
Fifty-nine percent of Democrats believe associates of the Trump campaign did something illegal, while 26 percent say they did something unethical but not illegal and just 8 percent say nothing wrong happened. Among independents, though, a 36 percent plurality think the Trump campaign's associates did something illegal in relation to Russia, while 30 percent believe something unethical but not illegal occurred. Twenty-four percent say the Trump campaign's associates did nothing wrong.
Across the board, Americans of all political stripes have been paying attention to the ongoing Russia investigations, which include a Department of Justice special counsel and inquiries from both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. Twenty-six percent say they've been following the news a great deal, and 33 percent say they've been following the news about it a good amount. Twenty-eight percent say they haven't followed the news about the Russia investigations very much, while just 12 percent say they aren't following it at all.
There's also a high level of skepticism and flat-out disbelief when it comes to whether or not Russia even sought to meddle in U.S. elections last year. (The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.) A quarter of Republicans say Russia wasn't involved in the hacking at all, while another 27 percent say the country poses no threat to future U.S. elections.
That view is at odds with Americans overall. A 47 percent plurality say they think Russia is a major threat to future U.S. elections, while 20 percent say Russia poses a minor threat to future U.S. elections. Just 13 percent say the country poses no threat at all, while 12 percent think Russia wasn't involved at all.
Democrats and independents are overwhelmingly concerned about the security of future U.S. elections, however. Seventy-three percent of Democrats say Russia poses a major threat to future U.S. elections, while 16 percent say the country is a minor threat. Just over half of independents say Russia is a major threat to future U.S. elections, while 19 percent say the country is a minor threat.
"If you're looking at 2018, there's no big push on the part of GOP voters to get involved in this notion of addressing what went on with the last elections," said Miringoff. "Republicans are comfortable with what Donald Trump says, and they are comfortable with him as president."
As Trump plans to meet with Putin on Friday, a 46 percent plurality of Americans overall think Trump's goal of improving relations with Russia is mostly a good thing for the U.S. while, 41 percent say it's mostly a bad thing. Those numbers also have a distinctly partisan split — 70 percent of Democrats say improving relations with Russia is mostly a bad thing for the country, while three-quarters of Republicans say it's mostly a good thing. Independents are nearly evenly split on the question.
When simply asked if it's better for the U.S. to build relationships with Russia or to treat the country as a threat — without Trump in the equation — a 59 percent majority of Americans believe it's better to build relationships with Russia while 31 percent say Russia should be treated as a threat. Sixty-seven percent of Republicans think it's better to build relationships with Russia, and 60 percent of independents likewise hold that view. Democrats are split on that question, with 46 percent of them saying the U.S. should build better relationships with Russia, while 44 percent believe Russia should be treated as a threat.
Forty-two percent of Americans think Trump is a more effective leader than Putin, whom Trump has often praised. Thirty-six percent say Putin is the more effective leader. Those numbers also have a deep partisan bent, with three quarters of Republicans saying Trump is the more effective leader, while half of Democrats say Putin is the more effective leader. Independents are nearly evenly split on the question.
If the U.S. reduces its role on the world stage, a 45 percent plurality of Americans think China would most likely benefit. Nearly a quarter think Russia would be the beneficiary of a less engaged United States, while 5 percent say Saudi Arabia would benefit most, 4 percent think it would be Germany and 5 percent say another country. Sixteen percent are unsure which country would be most likely to benefit.
The NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll surveyed 1,205 adults from June 21-25 contacted by live interviewers using a mix of landline and mobile numbers. There is a 2.8-percentage-point margin of error. A subsample of 995 registered voters was also surveyed, with a 3.1-percentage-point margin of error.