Between a third and 40 percent of the broader public approved of the meeting, according to three new polls, which differ significantly on the share of Americans who disapprove.
The most positive is a new HuffPost/YouGov survey, in which 40 percent of Americans say they approve of Trump’s meeting and news conference with Vladimir Putin, while 36 percent disapprove. The remainder, about a quarter, aren’t sure.
Opinions, as ever, are deeply politicized. In the HuffPost/YouGov poll, 83 percent of Trump voters approve of Trump’s performance in Helsinki, compared to the 9 percent approval he garners among voters who supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. Non-voters and third-party voters narrowly approve, 35 percent to 26 percent, with a 40 percent plurality undecided.
Other surveys this week, however, found the meeting to be significantly less popular. A SurveyMonkey/Axios poll also found that 40 percent of Americans approved, but registered far higher disapproval, at 58 percent. In a CBS News poll, just 32 percent approved, with 55 percent disapproving.
One factor that may account for the difference is that neither of those surveys gave respondents an explicit option to say they weren’t sure. In the HuffPost/YouGov survey, 43 percent of Americans say they didn’t follow news about the summit very closely, or at all.
We wanted to get a better sense of what the public had actually heard about Trump’s meeting before they were quizzed about it by pollsters. So prior to asking any questions about Russia, we first asked a subset of the people we polled to answer a much more general question: What would they say happened in the news on Monday? Both Clinton and Trump voters were largely tuned into the Russia story, but with very different interpretations.
One Clinton voter who described herself as “very liberal” fumed, ”#45 met with Putin in Helsinki,” and said she strongly disapproved of Trump’s performance Monday. “He pandered to the Russian and despite confirmation from all US intelligence agencies that Russia meddled with the 2016 election, ignored the information and gave Putin a pass. It was absolutely egregious.”
Another wrote, more succinctly, “I saw the President of the United States side with an enemy of the United States.”
Trump voters, by contrast, largely praised the meeting, with many blaming the media for attempting to “push him into embarrassing Putin in front of the world” or for providing negative coverage of the summit.
“A historic and necessary meeting took place between the U.S. and Russia,” wrote one man, who described himself as very conservative and a strong Trump supporter, “but according to the media we should be pushing their agenda and confronting Russia over made-up investigations and junk. [T]he President is absolutely doing the right thing.”
Still, several Trump voters did express displeasure with some aspects of Trump’s performance. “I can’t believe my president disbelieved his own intelligence people in favor of Puty Pute,” wrote one man who strongly approves of the president overall, but was less than impressed with his performance on Monday.
“The summit looked like it would be a success but at the last minute the question about Russian interference and [Trump’s] answer gave the left ammunition to attack Trump,” wrote another man, who approves of Trump and considers him a strong leader, but also said he disapproved of the president’s performance in Helsinki. “He was wrong in his answer but right about no collusion.”
Non-voters, as a bloc, weren’t entirely tuned out of the Russia news: ”Donald Trump met with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki Finland,” reported one 20-year-old woman who described herself as a moderate independent and said she somewhat approved of the meeting, despite feeling Trump has been too positive in his treatment of Putin. “There, they met in private and then held a press conference together.”
But compared to the partisans, they mostly didn’t see the issue as top of mind. More than half of the non-voters asked said they hadn’t really been paying attention to the news. Others focused on news beyond the Russia summit ― such as updates on the Thai cave rescue, local car thefts. Summarized one woman, a 2012 Obama voter who stayed home in 2016, and described herself as following politics “only now and then”: ”Someone died, wildfires & volcanos, hot weather and [we have] an idiot for President.”
Most Americans Dislike Putin, Believe Trump Views Him Positively
Broader public opinion about Trump’s handling of Russia has been notably resistant to change, even as news stories have piled up about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling. A poll conducted last week, just after the indictment of 12 Russian hackers, found Americans’ views still basically unmoved from where they’d been more than a year prior.
Most of the results in the latest HuffPost/YouGov poll suggest that’s still the case. Americans say, 54 percent to 20 percent, that they believe Trump has a favorable opinion of Putin. That’s almost unchanged from an Economist/YouGov poll conducted the week before the summit. A third of Americans say Trump’s treatment of Putin has been about right, while 36 percent say it’s been too positive and just 4 percent that it’s been too negative. The rest are unsure. About three-quarters of Trump voters say the president’s treatment of Putin has been about right, with 14 percent saying that he’s been too positive toward the Russian leader.
Americans’ own views of Putin, by contrast, remain largely unfavorable. In the most recent poll, just 19 percent hold a positive view of the Russian leader, while 60 percent view him negatively. Eighty-four percent of Clinton voters and 65 percent of Trump voters say they hold a negative view of Putin.
The Russia meeting also doesn’t seem to have affected the public’s view of Trump’s strength. Americans are split 50/50 on whether the president is a strong or a weak leader, exactly as they were a week ago. By a 9-point margin, they say Trump does not apologize too much to the rest of the world for past United States policies. (In a 2009 Fox News poll, voters said by a 6-point margin that Obama did apologize too often.)
One number, however, doesn’t fit with the rest of the data in suggesting that Trump’s meeting had little effect on public opinion. The HuffPost/YouGov poll finds a modest uptick on the share of Americans who think Trump’s ties to Russia are a legitimate issue: 51 percent say that it is, up from 45 percent last Friday and in line with the heightened concerns seen after the firing of James Comey and the meeting where Trump reportedly divulged classified information to Russian officials.
The difference is driven largely by voters who supported Trump in the presidential election: 40 percent now call his administration’s relationship with Russia a legitimate issue, up from 22 percent in last week’s survey. Given the rest of the numbers, and the propensity for tracking numbers to vary poll to poll, especially among subgroups, it’s hard to tell whether or not that shift means much. One possibility is that, in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s meeting, his supporters are simply more likely to interpret the question as asking about Trump’s current diplomacy with Russia, rather than Russian interference during the last presidential election.
Whatever its cause, the shift doesn’t seem to carry over to perceptions that the issue is an especially serious one. The 28 percent who currently say that the White House’s relationship with Russia presents a very serious problem is a minor downtick from 32 percent last week; the 48 percent who call it at least somewhat serious is well in range of other recent surveys.
One other question suggests that Trump voters’ concerns remain modest. Asked whether they cared more about the president’s summit with Putin or about the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to be a Supreme Court justice, Trump voters say by a 38-point margin that they’re more focused on the Supreme Court. Clinton voters, by a 14-point margin, place more weight on the summit.
The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted July 16-18 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.
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.