POLITICS
05/12/2017 08:20 am ET

What The First Polls Say About Comey's Firing

Two find opinions split, while a third shows majority opposition.
Then-FBI Director James Comey testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Oversight of the Federal Bureau of In
Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
Then-FBI Director James Comey testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 3, 2017.

Three new polls shed some light on a hectic news cycle. Attitudes about the media’s “watchdog” role are polarized to a record extent. And the Census has new information about who voted in 2016 ― too bad it doesn’t have a director any more. This is HuffPollster for Friday, May 12, 2017.

SURVEY FINDS SPLIT OPINIONS ABOUT TRUMP’S FIRING OF JAMES COMEY - HuffPollster: “Americans are split over President Donald Trump’s decision to fire James Comey as the director of the FBI, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov survey, although few trust the Trump administration’s official explanation for the termination. A third of Americans say that Trump made the right decision, the poll finds, while 34 percent say he made the wrong decision. Although the vast majority of Americans, 85 percent, say they’ve heard at least some news about the firing, they’re not all sure what to think about it. A full third of the public says that they’re unsure….47 percent believe that Trump fired Comey at least partially to disrupt the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether any Trump campaign associates colluded with Russia. Just 26 percent think the firing was unrelated to the investigation….The level of polarization, while not unusual in the response to a political controversy, suggests that the concerns of some Republican senators over Comey’s firing haven’t trickled down to their base.” [HuffPost]

How that stacks up to other polls: More from HuffPollster: “The results of the HuffPost/YouGov survey closely match those of a Politico/Morning Consult poll also released Thursday, which found that 35 percent of voters thought Trump was right to remove Comey, 33 percent that he should have allowed Comey to continue and 32 percent unsure. A third poll from NBC and SurveyMonkey, however, found a similar level of support for the firing but far higher opposition, with 38 percent of Americans calling the dismissal appropriate and 54 percent saying it was inappropriate. There’s one major difference between that survey and the other two. The NBC/SurveyMonkey poll didn’t provide respondents with an explicit option to say they were undecided, although they were allowed to skip the question. The HuffPost/YouGov and Politico/Morning Consult polls gave people an option to say that they weren’t sure.”

More from NBC/SurveyMonkey - Hannah Hartig, John Lapinski and Stephanie Perry: “A majority of Americans (54 percent) agree that allegations of improper contact with Russian government officials by Trump campaign advisers represent a serious issue that should be investigated. Four in ten think the allegations are more of a distraction….Among those Americans who say that the allegations are a serious issue, 83 percent are less confident that the Russian investigation will be conducted fairly after Comey’s unexpected firing.” [NBC]

More from Politico/Morning Consult - Steven Shepard: “Overall, 37 percent of voters describe Trump’s decision to remove Comey as ‘appropriate,’ and 34 percent describe it as ‘inappropriate.’...Asked whether Trump’s decision was appropriate in light of the investigation into his campaign, however, the percentage who say it was appropriate does not change measurably, ticking down a single point to 36 percent. But the percentage who say it was inappropriate rises 7 percentage points, to 41 percent….Told that Comey ‘misstated several details’ about the Clinton investigation, 47 percent say Trump’s decision was appropriate, including 29 percent of Democrats. Just 28 percent say it is inappropriate in light of those misstatements.” [Politico]

THE NEWS ON RUSSIA AND TRUMP IS EVOLVING, BUT OPINIONS ARE NOT - HuffPollster, on a survey taken after Monday’s Senate hearings on Russia, but largely before the Tuesday-night firing of James Comey as FBI director: “Public opinion on the United States’ relationship with Russia has barely budged over the last several weeks, despite a series of congressional hearings about the Kremlin’s possible interference in the 2016 election and the Donald Trump administration’s connections to Moscow. Americans currently say, 43 percent to 30 percent, that the Trump administration’s relationship with Russia is a legitimate issue, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov survey. Forty-seven percent consider that relationship to be at least a somewhat serious problem, although only 29 percent believe it to be very serious….All those numbers are similar to those from a March poll taken just after the FBI confirmed it was investigating possible ties between Trump associates and Russian government officials….What’s striking about the results ― and a main factor in their stability ― is how deeply entrenched views remain along partisan lines.” [HuffPost, more from 538’s Nate Silver on how to know if the issue is gaining momentum]

POLLS FIND LITTLE SUPPORT FOR NEW GOP HEALTH CARE BILL - A HuffPost/YouGov survey published Monday found just 31 percent of Americans in favor of the bill, with 44 percent opposed. Since then, several other pollsters have weighed in, with similar results. [HuffPost, Economist, Morning Consult, Quinnipiac]

Could the vote help Democrats? - Kyle Kondik: “Democrats are hopeful that Republicans’ vote last week to pass the American Health Care Act provides them an argument to use in next year’s election. Only 20 House Republicans voted against the bill, which is not polling well and which Democrats are angling to use as a cudgel against the GOP….All we can say right now is that Democrats paid a political price for drawn-out attempts to alter the American health care system in both the 1994 midterm, when their health care efforts failed, and in 2010, when their efforts resulted in the Affordable Care Act (’Obamacare’). It’s not crazy to suggest Republicans will also discover that taking ownership of health care could be bad for them, too, but it’s also not a certainty. Still, the case for GOP health care troubles rests upon a broader theory about the American public, which is that the public is resistant to dramatic change and is inherently skeptical of the party in power, particularly if it views that party as overreaching….We think the combination of a controversial and unpopular health care bill, a president with approval ratings that are poor, and the general tendency for the president’s party to struggle in the midterm is a recipe for potential Democratic success.” [Center for Politics]

ATTITUDES ABOUT THE NEWS MEDIA DIVIDE ALONG PARTISAN LINES - Michael Barthel and Amy Mitchell: “Democrats and Republicans, who already tend to place their trust in different news sources and rely on different outlets for political news, now disagree more than ever on a fundamental issue of the news media’s role in society: whether news organizations’ criticism of political leaders primarily keeps them from doing things they shouldn’t – or keeps them from doing their job. Today, in the early days of the Trump administration, roughly nine-in-ten Democrats (89%) say news media criticism keeps leaders in line (sometimes called the news media’s ‘watchdog role’), while only about four-in-ten Republicans (42%) say the same….While Republicans have been more likely to support a watchdog role during Democratic presidencies and vice versa, the distance between the parties has never approached the 47-point gap that exists today.” [Pew]

WHAT THE CENSUS TELLS US ABOUT 2016 TURNOUT - Jens Manuel Krogstad and Mark Hugo Lopez: “A record 137.5 million Americans voted in the 2016 presidential election, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Overall voter turnout – defined as the share of adult U.S. citizens who cast ballots – was 61.4% in 2016, a share similar to 2012 but below the 63.6% who say they voted in 2008. A number of long-standing trends in presidential elections either reversed or stalled in 2016, as black voter turnout decreased, white turnout increased and the nonwhite share of the U.S. electorate remained flat since the 2012 election….The black voter turnout rate declined for the first time in 20 years in a presidential election, falling to 59.6% in 2016 after reaching a record-high 66.6% in 2012….Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and other racial or ethnic minorities accounted for 26.7% of voters in 2016, a share unchanged from 2012….The voter turnout rate increased among Millennials and those in Generation X….The voter turnout rate among women was 63.3% in 2016, mostly unchanged from 63.7% in 2012.” [Pew]

More on the turnout estimates -  Ted Mellnik, John Muyskens, Kim Soffen and Scott Clement: “White working-class people were no more likely to vote in this presidential election than in the previous one. Trump’s victory was not due to a spike in turnout among his base supporters. But there were significant changes in turnout among other demographics. Significant drops in black and Hispanic turnout may have cost Hillary Clinton some previously blue states. These estimates of voter turnout in the 2016 election came Wednesday from the Census Bureau, which surveyed about a hundred thousand people across the nation, providing the most comprehensive examination of who voted and didn’t….White people without college degrees turned out at just under 58 percent, less than a percentage point higher than in 2012. The group did break strongly for Trump — 66 percent compared with Romney’s 61 according to the network exit poll — a big contributor to Trump’s victory. But the Census data suggest Trump did not inspire a major surge in turnout among his signature demographic.” [WashPost]

SPEAKING OF THE CENSUS... - Michael McAuliff: “The director of the U.S. Census Bureau is resigning, the Commerce Department announced Tuesday, leaving the government’s lead statistical agency without a clear leader as the bureau ramps up for the massive decennial task of counting the entire U.S. population in 2020. Census Bureau Director John Thompson’s announcement that he is leaving at the end of June comes less than a week after he testified on Capitol Hill, telling House appropriators that his agency would be able to carry out the Census effectively, despite a number of cost overruns and a lower budget than normal for this point in the 10-year planning cycle. Normally as Census planning shifts from the seventh year of the decade to the eighth, the budget jumps dramatically. But Congress did not pass the Obama administration’s budget for 2017, leaving the bureau about $160 million short of its $1.61 billion request. The Trump administration’s request for 2018 is essentially flatlined, at a time when the government is usually adding hundreds of millions of dollars to carry out one of the most challenging statistical counts in the world….No successor was announced, and the deputy director’s position is currently vacant.” [HuffPost]

The American Association for Public Opinion Research, in a statement: We urge the President to appoint a replacement of equal caliber. We are also greatly concerned that congressional and White House budget allocations for 2020 Census preparations are inadequate for the task at hand. While important that President Trump quickly appoints a new Census Bureau Director, it is equally critical that the new Director is given the resources necessary to deliver a methodologically rigorous and highly credible 2020 Census. Our entire nation is counting on it.” [AAPOR]

AMERICANS HOLD RECORD LIBERAL VIEWS ON MANY MORAL ISSUES - Jeffrey M. Jones: “Americans continue to express an increasingly liberal outlook on what is morally acceptable, as their views on 10 of 19 moral issues that Gallup measures are the most left-leaning or permissive they have been to date. The percentages of U.S. adults who believe birth control, divorce, sex between unmarried people, gay or lesbian relations, having a baby outside of marriage, doctor-assisted suicide, pornography and polygamy are morally acceptable practices have tied record highs or set new ones this year. At the same time, record lows say the death penalty and medical testing on animals are morally acceptable.” [Gallup]

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FRIDAY’S ‘OUTLIERS’ - Links to the best of news at the intersection of polling, politics and political data:

-Quinnipiac shows approval for President Trump at a near-record low, with most Americans favoring Democrats to retake the House. [Quinnipiac]

-Cary Funk and Lee Rainie find Americans divided on whether the recent science marches will benefit scientists’ causes. [Pew]

-Ari Berman shares a study that finds Wisconsin’s voter-ID law depressed turnout; Josh Voorhees details some criticism about the study. [The Nation, Slate]

-Amy Walter breaks down new polls that show American preferring a bigger government. [Cook Political Report]

-Harry Enten notes the increasing polarization of the public’s faith in elections. [538]

-Frank R. Baumgartner and Sarah McAdon examine media coverage of campus assault. [WashPost]

-Henry Farrell notes there’s as much survey evidence for alien abduction as for Trump’s claims of voter fraud. [WashPost]

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