Days after a climactic news cycle in which President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman was found guilty on eight charges and Trump’s former lawyer pleaded guilty to eight others, a very slim majority of the American public can agree that both men did something wrong.
Few Americans outright believe that Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen are innocent, a new HuffPost/YouGov survey finds, or even that their crimes are aberrations unrelated to the Trump administration. Instead, responses are largely split between those who believe the two men are part of a larger pattern of White House malfeasance and those who have more or less tuned out the latest news altogether.
A 53 percent majority of those polled say that Cohen did at least something wrong, with 38 percent saying it reflects a broader pattern of wrongdoing by the Trump administration. Six percent of respondents say he did nothing wrong, and 41 percent say they’re unsure.
The numbers for Manafort are close to identical: Fifty-five percent say he did something wrong, with 37 percent considering his actions to be representative of a bigger problem; 4 percent say he did nothing wrong, and 40 percent are not sure.
Responses are largely split between those who believe the two men are part of a larger pattern of White House malfeasance and those who have more or less tuned out the latest news altogether.
Both sets of numbers bear more than a passing similarity to polling from last October, when Manafort was first indicted along with Rick Gates and former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Between 32 and 35 percent of the public considered those cases evidence of broader wrongdoing by the Trump campaign.
And, as was the case last fall, the latest poll shows Americans split along distinct political lines. Hillary Clinton voters, as before, are broadly condemnatory. More than three-quarters say they see the latest round of developments as still more proof of widespread malfeasance by the White House.
Trump voters’ responses, by contrast, are scattered. Few are willing to say outright that Cohen and Manafort’s actions represent a pattern of misbehavior ― just 4 and 3 percent, respectively, agree with that ― but the share of respondents willing to outright exculpate them isn’t much higher, at 15 and 10 percent.
Instead, Trump voters split largely between saying that Manafort’s behavior was an isolated incident or simply refusing to state an opinion. On Cohen, a clear plurality have nothing to say.
Perhaps that’s not entirely surprising. Just under half of Americans report they’ve been even somewhat closely following the news about Cohen’s guilty plea or Manafort’s trial, and fewer than one-fifth say they’ve followed the stories very closely ― in both cases, slightly lower than the level of interest in Manafort’s indictment last October. A majority of those who are most raptly tuned in are Clinton voters.
Asked to identify the crimes to which Cohen pleaded guilty from a list of several options, 37 percent correctly answered that Cohen had admitted paying hush money to women who claimed they had affairs with Donald Trump, and 19 percent that Cohen’s crimes were best described as bank and tax fraud. A combined 10 percent thought his plea stemmed from collusion with Russia or something else, with another 34 percent unsure. A 59 percent majority of Clinton voters cited the hush money, as did 34 percent of Trump voters and 26 percent of nonvoters and third-party voters.
What remains to be seen is whether the revelations will have a broader impact on Trump’s approval ratings, which have remained more or less stable in the face of family separations, the Helsinki summit and the continuing slow burn of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Half the public currently believes the Trump White House has faced more scandals than previous administrations, with just under one-third saying it’s been about average or that it’s been less scandal-prone than past administrations.
But despite the ethical issues that have plagued Trump and his circle since the start of his candidacy (remember the tax returns?) until more recently (remember Scott Pruitt’s lotion?), allegations of corruption against him have never played a predominant role in even his opponents’ narratives.
During the election, Americans focused more on Trump’s hard-line immigration stance and his derogatory remarks against women and minorities; an October 2016 survey found that voters gave him a 9-point edge over Clinton in trust to handle corruption. More recently, the Pew Research Center reported that Trump’s supporters and opponents alike were less likely to take issue with his honesty than to express concerns about his policies or his personality.
If the corruption narrative isn’t quite sticking to Trump, it also certainly hasn’t reached the rest of the GOP. Per recent Democratic message polling, congressional Democrats and Republicans are about equally trusted to reduce government corruption. Candidates in both parties have so far been about equally likely to run corruption-focused ads, with most of those touching on local scandals.
But if the latest news cycle isn’t a sure bet to help Democrats, it also seems doubtful that it’ll do Republicans ― who are still trailing in the midterm polls ― any good.
“Previous negative stories about Trump related to the Mueller investigation haven’t moved the needle much because, in all likelihood, opinions about the president are so hardened. But they are hardened in a way that is poor for the president, and for his fellow Republicans,” Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of the forecasting site Sabato’s Crystal Ball, wrote Thursday, arguing that the latest news is unlikely either to benefit Trump’s approval rating or to provide GOP candidates with anything resembling an advantageous news cycle. “Meanwhile, the clock keeps ticking toward Election Day.”
The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Aug. 21-22 among U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.
HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.
Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.