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Snapshot: Republicans Share Trump's Dim View of Sessions

Snapshot: Republicans Share Trump's Dim View of Sessions

Story Highlights

  • Americans have a 25% favorable, 49% unfavorable view of Jeff Sessions
  • Republicans' views of Sessions are 33% favorable, 40% unfavorable
  • Robert Mueller's overall image is net positive: 38% favorable, 32% unfavorable

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- President Donald Trump's continued attacks on U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions appear to have resulted in Republicans themselves adopting a negative view of the embattled Alabamian. While 32% of Republicans view Sessions favorably, 40% view him unfavorably and 27% don't have an opinion. When Republicans' views are combined with the far more negative than positive views of independents and Democrats, Session's image among all Americans ends up 25% favorable and 49% unfavorable.

Americans' Views of Jeff Sessions*
Favorable Unfavorable Don't know/No opinion
% % %
National adults 25 49 26
Republicans 33 40 27
Independents 25 46 29
Democrats 17 64 19
Wording: "Attorney General Jeff Sessions"
GALLUP, Sept. 4-12, 2018

Sessions was among the first senators to formally endorse Trump in February 2016 as Trump's campaign for the Republican nomination began to gain steam. Trump, in turn, rewarded Sessions with the attorney general position. But after Sessions recused himself from the process of appointing a special counsel to look into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election, Trump has turned on him, routinely criticizing Sessions in public statements. Most recently, Trump said in an interview: "I don't have an attorney general," and "I'm very disappointed in Jeff. Very disappointed."

Sessions' negative rating among Republicans stands in contrast to the very positive ratings that Republicans give another cabinet member, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who in August was viewed favorably by 63% of Republicans, and unfavorably by 14%. Republicans are also very positive about other Trump administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

It is not unprecedented for an attorney general to have a net-unfavorable image among Americans. Eric Holder, attorney general for much of Barack Obama's presidency, had a 25% favorable, 35% unfavorable image in June 2014, and Alberto Gonzales, attorney general in George W. Bush's second term, had a 26% favorable, 38% unfavorable image in March 2007. But in contrast to Sessions' unpopularity with Republicans, Holder had a positive image among Democrats in 2014, and Gonzales had a positive image among Republicans in 2007.

John Ashcroft, attorney general in Bush's first term, measured six times by Gallup from 2001 through 2004, and Bill Clinton's attorney general, Janet Reno, measured nine times from 1993 to 2000, were consistently given more favorable than unfavorable ratings by both the American public and those in their own party.

Robert Mueller, whose appointment as Special Counsel investigating possible Russian involvement in the 2016 election is a primary reason for Trump's negative views of Sessions, has a significantly more negative image among Republicans than Sessions. Republicans give Mueller an 11% favorable and 58% unfavorable rating. Unlike Sessions, however, Mueller receives net-positive ratings from independents (41% favorable, 24% unfavorable) and a very positive evaluation from Democrats (61% favorable, 20% unfavorable). This results in an overall net-positive image for Mueller among all Americans.

Americans' Views of Robert Mueller*
Favorable Unfavorable Don't know/No opinion
% % %
National adults 38 32 30
Republicans 11 58 31
Independents 41 24 35
Democrats 61 20 19
Note: While Mueller's official title is Special Counsel, Gallup's wording was "Independent Counsel Robert Mueller"
GALLUP, Sept. 4-12, 2018

Mueller's image is virtually unchanged from Gallup's last update in April when 36% viewed him positively and 28% negatively.

Although he is less well known, Mueller's image is more positive on a net basis among those who have an opinion than is Trump's. In the Sept. 4-12 survey, Trump was viewed favorably by 41% of Americans, and unfavorably by 58%. Unlike Mueller, of course, Trump is viewed very positively among Republicans.

Mueller's image can also be compared to another highly visible independent counsel, Ken Starr, who was appointed to investigate Bill and Hillary Clinton's involvement in real estate deals in Arkansas, but whose probes morphed into a focus on the president's sexual indiscretions with a White House intern. That led to Clinton becoming only the second president in U.S. history to be impeached, in 1998. Starr's image was mixed when Gallup measured it in early 1998, but by the fall of that year, after his report on Clinton had been made public, Starr's image had become significantly more negative than positive. When Gallup last measured Starr in March of 1999, after Clinton's acquittal on the impeachment charges by the U.S. Senate, Starr had an overall 24% favorable, 66% unfavorable image.


The finding that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has a net-negative image among Republicans is not surprising given that he is investigating a Republican president. Attorney General Sessions' net-negative image among his fellow Republicans is more surprising from a historical perspective, but is understandable when Trump's consistent public criticism of Sessions is taken into account.

Mueller has yet to release any official report on his investigation, and when he does, his currently overall net-positive image among all Americans could change. But at the moment, Mueller is viewed in a significantly more positive light than the primary individual he is investigating.

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