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Three in 10 Say Trump Acted Illegally During 2016 Campaign

Politics

Three in 10 Say Trump Acted Illegally During 2016 Campaign

Three in 10 Say Trump Acted Illegally During 2016 Campaign

Story Highlights

  • 29% say Trump acted illegally concerning Russian involvement in 2016 election
  • 31% say Trump broke law in hush-money payments to women
  • Majorities of Democrats say Trump acted illegally in both matters

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Three in 10 U.S. adults believe Donald Trump acted illegally in separate incidents during the 2016 campaign. Twenty-nine percent believe he broke the law for his campaign's alleged involvement with Russian officials, the focus of independent counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Meanwhile, 31% say Trump acted illegally in making payments to two women in the fall of 2016 who alleged having affairs with him.

Americans are more inclined to believe Trump acted unethically, but not illegally, in the hush-money payments matter (37%) than to say he did nothing seriously wrong (23%). On the other hand, more, 35%, believe Trump did nothing wrong in the Russia matter than say he acted unethically (27%).

Opinions About Donald Trump's Actions in 2016 Presidential Campaign
Acted illegally Acted unethically but not illegally Did nothing seriously wrong
% % %
Russian officials' involvement with Trump campaign in 2016 U.S. presidential election 29 27 35
Payments to two women to keep them from publicizing their alleged relationships with Trump 31 37 23
Gallup, Aug. 27-Sept. 2, 2018

These data come from an Aug. 27-Sept. 2 Gallup poll, conducted the week after criminal convictions of former Trump associates Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen. A jury found Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman who is a central figure in Mueller's investigation, guilty of tax evasion and other crimes unrelated to the 2016 campaign. Cohen, who orchestrated payments to former Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult film actress Stormy Daniels, pleaded guilty to violations of campaign finance laws, implicating Trump in the process.

Gallup had asked in August 2017 about Trump's actions in the Russia matter, and opinions have not changed much since then. At that time, 25% thought he acted illegally and 37% unethically, while 35% believed he did nothing wrong. There has been an increase in the percentage of Americans not having an opinion, from 3% a year ago to 9% now.

Public More Focused on Russia Than Hush Money

Americans are paying significantly more attention to the Russian investigation than to the hush-money story. Nearly two-thirds say they are following news about Russian officials' involvement in the presidential election story very (33%) or somewhat (32%) closely, while about half are following the story about the payments very (18%) or somewhat (31%) closely.

Those closely following the story about the hush-money payments are much more inclined than those paying less attention to think Trump acted illegally. Sixty-one percent following the story very closely say he acted illegally, compared with 37% following it somewhat closely and 16% who are not following it closely.

There is a weaker relationship between attention to the Russia story and belief that Trump broke the law.

On both matters, Americans following the story very closely are more likely to think Trump either acted illegally or did nothing wrong, with relatively few saying he acted unethically but not illegally.

Those More Attentive to Story About Campaign Hush-Money Payments Are More Inclined to Think Donald Trump Acted Illegally
Acted illegally Acted unethically but not illegally Did nothing seriously wrong
% % %
"Hush money" payments to two women
Following story very closely 61 20 19
Following story somewhat closely 37 40 19
Not following story closely 16 42 27
Russian officials' involvement in 2016 U.S. election
Following story very closely 38 16 43
Following story somewhat closely 32 35 29
Not following story closely 18 31 31
Gallup, Aug. 27-Sept. 2, 2018

Majority of Democrats Say Trump Acted Illegally in Both Matters

As might be expected, there is a strong relationship between political party identification and opinions about Trump's actions during the 2016 campaign. Democrats' opinions are consistent for the two matters -- 59% say he acted illegally in each, with most of the rest saying he acted unethically but not illegally.

In contrast, Republicans mostly give Trump the benefit of the doubt, but more so on Russian officials' involvement than on the payments to the alleged Trump mistresses. Seventy-three percent of Republicans believe Trump did nothing wrong in the Russia matter, while less than half, 48%, say the same about the payments. Republicans are about twice as likely to say Trump acted unethically but not illegally in the hush-money matter as in the Russia matter. Five percent or less of Republicans believe Trump acted illegally in either incident.

Pluralities of independents say Trump acted unethically but not illegally -- 40% on the payments and 34% on Russia. The remainder of independents divide about evenly in saying Trump broke the law or did nothing wrong.

Majority of Democrats Say Trump Acted Illegally in Hush-Money Payments and Russian Involvement in 2016 Election
Acted illegally Acted unethically but not illegally Did nothing seriously wrong
% % %
"Hush money" payments to two women
Democrats 59 35 4
Independents 26 40 23
Republicans 5 36 48
Russian officials' involvement in 2016 U.S. election
Democrats 59 30 6
Independents 29 34 26
Republicans 3 18 73
Gallup, Aug. 27-Sept. 2, 2018

The distinctions in Republicans' opinions on the two matters might indicate that Republicans are following Trump's lead. Trump has denied doing anything illegal in the Russia matter, but he has admitted making the payments to Daniels and McDougal.

Implications

Mueller is continuing his investigation but has not indicated when he will release his findings. The investigation has yielded a number of criminal charges and convictions of former Trump associates, but the president's role in possible Russian interference in the campaign remains unclear.

At this point, the majority of Americans believe Trump did something wrong regarding Russia, with about three in 10 saying he broke the law. This pattern of opinion also holds among those following the story very closely.

The release of the report should answer whether Trump acted illegally in the Russia matter, but it remains to be seen to what extent partisans' opinions will be swayed by the findings.

Trump and his surrogates continue to pressure the Department of Justice to end the inquiry. Trump is also considering meeting with Mueller to answer questions, though this is far from certain.

The hush-money payments may be a more-threatening legal issue for Trump, given Cohen's testimony against Trump and the president's admission that the payments were made. Ultimately, the legality of Trump's payments may rest on whether campaign funds were used, which would constitute a violation of federal campaign finance law. Trump recently stated that the payments were not made with campaign funds. Americans are more inclined to think Trump did something seriously wrong in this matter than on Russia, although the percentage who think he acted illegally is similar in both cases.

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Gallup https://news.gallup.com/poll/241970/three-say-trump-acted-illegally-during-2016-campaign.aspx
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