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1 in 4 Americans Say Trump Acted Illegally With Russia

1 in 4 Americans Say Trump Acted Illegally With Russia

Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • 37% say Trump acted unethically; 35% say he did nothing wrong
  • Similar to assessments of Clinton for Whitewater, Lewinsky investigations
  • Nearly three-quarters following news about the matter closely

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Twenty-five percent of U.S. adults believe Donald Trump acted illegally in his campaign's alleged involvement with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential election, while 37% say he acted unethically but not illegally and 35% say he did nothing wrong. From a historical perspective, Americans' belief that Trump is culpable is on the high end of reactions to several past presidential controversies. However, it is on par with two matters involving former President Bill Clinton.


Perceptions of Presidential Actions in Prior Controversies -- Last Time Gallup Asked About Each
  Illegal Unethical Nothing wrong
  % % %
Clinton (1998): Whitewater real estate deal 29 42 24
Trump (2017): Russian involvement in election 25 37 35
Clinton (1998): Kenneth Starr investigation 24 47 24
Bush (2006): Administration leaking intelligence info 21 42 28
Clinton (2001): Presidential pardons 18 57 22
Clinton (1997): 1996 fundraising 17 46 31
Bush (2002): Involvement with Enron officials 15 43 28
Clinton (1998): Allow China to get sensitive missile technology 15 41 32
Bush (2002): Activities at Harken Energy Corp 7 32 23
Bush (2004): National Guard service 4 31 49


The Trump data are based on an Aug. 2-6 Gallup poll, which employed the same "illegal/unethical/nothing seriously wrong" format used to ask about prior presidential controversies dating back to the 1990s.

Some of these matters were protracted political storms, while others were only in the news for a brief time. For the most part, Americans have tended to say the president did not act illegally, although in almost every case a majority perceived the president's actions to be either illegal or unethical.

At most, between 24% and 29% of Americans believed presidents broke the law. In addition to the 25% who currently say Trump acted illegally in the Russia matter, 29% said in 1998 that Bill Clinton acted illegally in the Whitewater real estate deal that took place during his years of public service in Arkansas. Also in 1998, 24% said Clinton broke the law concerning matters covered in the Kenneth Starr investigation, which included the Whitewater deal but later was expanded to Clinton's having an affair with a White House intern and lying about it under oath.

Although similar percentages of Americans thought Clinton did something illegal in the Whitewater and Lewinsky matters as think Trump did with regard to Russia, more thought Clinton acted unethically. One in three Americans say Trump did nothing wrong, which also ranks among the higher readings in Gallup's trend.

Fewer than one in five Americans thought Clinton acted illegally in three other matters that prompted calls of wrongdoing. This includes his end-of-administration pardons in 2001, 1996 fundraising activities, and allowing China to acquire sensitive missile technology, allegedly in exchange for campaign contributions.

President George W. Bush also had his share of controversies, but only one -- involving national security leaks -- resulted in more than 20% of Americans believing the president's actions were criminal. Specifically, 21% in 2006 thought Bush had acted illegally when intelligence information was leaked to reporters. Former staffer Lewis "Scooter" Libby was jailed for lying about revealing the information.

Notably, 31% of Americans believed in 1998 that Hillary Clinton -- Trump's rival in the 2016 presidential election -- acted illegally in the Whitewater matter.

Public Paying Close Attention to Trump-Russia Issue

Questions about possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government have dogged his administration, and special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the matter. Seventy-three percent of Americans are following the news about possible Trump campaign-Russia ties very (33%) or somewhat (40%) closely. That is above the average of 60% attention paid to more than 200 different news stories Gallup has asked about since 1991. It is similar to the 74% who say they are following news about Trump's ongoing disputes with the news media closely.

To date, several Trump campaign officials -- including current Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former campaign manager Paul Manafort, and family members Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner -- have revealed they met with Russian officials or lobbyists during the campaign. It is unclear to what extent the president was involved in such meetings or was aware of their taking place.

In the most recent poll, Gallup asked half of respondents about Trump himself and the other half about "Trump campaign officials." Americans responded similarly even though there is evidence that Trump's associates met with Russian officials, or with operatives who purportedly had ties to the Russian government.


Views of Donald Trump's and Trump Campaign Officials' Involvement With Russian Officials in 2016 Election
Which of the following statements best describes your view of [Donald Trump / Trump campaign officials] in these matters -- [he / they] did something illegal; [he / they] did not do anything illegal, but did something unethical; or [he / they] did not do anything seriously wrong?
  Illegal Unethical Nothing wrong
  % % %
Donald Trump 25 37 35
Trump campaign officials 29 34 29
A random half of the sample's respondents were asked about Donald Trump, and the other half were asked about Trump campaign officials.
Gallup, Aug. 2-6, 2017


Most Republicans Say Trump Did Nothing Wrong

A majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, 69%, believe Trump did nothing wrong with regard to Russia. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, meanwhile, divide about equally between saying he did something illegal (43%) or something unethical but not illegal (49%).

Opinions about Trump campaign officials' actions are largely similar, though slightly fewer Republicans absolve them (60%) than the president. Here again, Democrats are divided in their views of whether Trump officials did something illegal (46%) or unethical (43%).


Views of Donald Trump's and Trump Campaign Officials' Involvement With Russian Officials in 2016 Election, by Political Party
  Illegal Unethical Nothing wrong
  % % %
Donald Trump  
Democrats/Democratic leaners 43 49 4
Republicans/Republican leaners 6 24 69
Trump campaign officials  
Democrats/Democratic leaners 46 43 7
Republicans/Republican leaners 9 25 60
A random half of the sample's respondents were asked about Donald Trump, and the other half were asked about Trump campaign officials.
Gallup, Aug. 2-6, 2017


Americans who are following the story "very closely" are most inclined to think Trump did something illegal -- 39% of those in this group believe he broke the law, while 23% say he did something unethical and 37% nothing wrong. Nineteen percent of those following the story "somewhat closely" and 8% of those not following it closely believe Trump did something illegal. The results show a similar pattern by attention level for the question about Trump campaign officials' actions.


Views of Donald Trump's and Trump Campaign Officials' Involvement With Russian Officials in 2016 Election, by Attention Paid to the Story
  Illegal Unethical Nothing wrong
  % % %
Donald Trump  
Following very closely 39 23 37
Following somewhat closely 19 40 37
Not following closely 8 42 37
Trump campaign officials  
Following very closely 40 25 32
Following somewhat closely 24 39 34
Not following closely 11 35 35
A random half of the sample's respondents were asked about Donald Trump, and the other half were asked about Trump campaign officials.
Gallup, Aug. 2-6, 2017


Democrats (38%) are somewhat more likely than Republicans (30%) to be paying very close attention to the story. This partially explains the difference in the higher percentage thinking Trump or his associates did something illegal among those following the story very closely.

Bottom Line

Most Americans, consistent with their usual reactions to presidential controversies, do not believe Trump broke the law in his campaign's alleged involvement with Russian officials. But the one in four U.S. adults who do believe Trump acted illegally is among the highest Gallup has measured for similar past situations.

At the same time, the one-third who believe he did nothing wrong is also one of the highest to hold that view, underscoring today's highly polarized political environment. Still, a majority believe Trump did something either illegal or unethical -- suggesting that as long as Mueller's investigation into the Russia matter continues, Trump will govern with a cloud of suspicion hovering over his administration.

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Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Aug. 2-6, 2017, with a random sample of 1,017 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

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