About a week ago, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, declared with confidence, “Everybody knows that Russia meddled in our elections.” It’s a defensible observation – everybody should know about Russia’s attack – but it’s regrettably not true. The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll shed some interesting light on public attitudes on Donald Trump’s Russia scandal.
The Post-ABC poll finds 60 percent of Americans think Russia tried to influence the election outcome, up slightly from 56 percent in April. Some 44 percent suspect Russian interference and think Trump benefited from their efforts. Roughly 4 in 10 believe members of Trump’s campaign intentionally aided Russian efforts to influence the election, though suspicions have changed little since the spring.
Americans’ views on Russia’s role in the election continue to divide along partisan lines. Among Democrats, 8 in 10 believe Russia attempted to influence the election and more than 6 in 10 think members of Trump’s team attempted to aid their efforts. But among Republicans, one-third think Russia tried to influence the election outcome, and fewer than 1 in 10 think Trump’s associates sought to help them [emphasis added].
This is roughly in line with the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which had results that pointed in a similar direction.
So, when Nikki Haley,says “everybody knows that Russia meddled in our elections,” she’s right – so long as voters in her own party are excluded from “everybody.”
It was the crime of the century, the biggest attack on the United States since 9/11, and the basis for one of the most important political scandals in American history. And yet, eight months after the election, the clear majority of Republican voters – 55 percent, to be exact – believe the event did not actually occur.
Note, the Russia scandal has multiple levels, which tend to follow like rungs on a ladder. As we discussed the other day, we start with the root question – “Did Vladimir Putin’s government attack the U.S. election?” – from which the rest of the controversy follows.
Did Russian officials attack? Yes. Did they intervene to help put Donald Trump in power? Yes. Was Trump’s campaign in communications with Russia during the espionage operation? Yes. Was Trump’s campaign willing and eager to cooperate with Russia’s scheme? Yes. Will the president or anyone in his operation face any consequences? Stay tuned.
But for most Republican voters, those secondary questions aren’t even asked, because they don’t believe the foundational charge – even as some top Trump administration officials concede publicly that the underlying allegation is obviously true.
And why is it that rank-and-file Republicans reject what “everybody” knows to be true? Part of it’s likely the result of the unstated fear of the implications: if a foreign adversary took steps to influence the outcome of the American election, and those efforts succeeded, then the legitimacy of the election is necessarily in doubt.
The other part is more straightforward: Republican voters aren’t prepared to believe Russia intervened in our election because their president has made it perfectly clear that he’s not prepared to believe it, either.