Americans and Trump part ways over Russia

December 14, 2016, 2:25 PM GMT+0

Most Americans do not view Russia as friendly, but even many Trump voters think that Trump does

The country is still divided in their feeling about the Trump presidency, with as many people in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll feeling pessimistic as optimistic about the next four years. That has changed little since the first poll after the election. However, this week’s poll suggests two particular worries for many: whether the President-elect has the same attitude towards Russia as the rest of the country, and whether his Cabinet choices are representing America.

There is a foreign policy disconnect between the public and Donald Trump: Americans see Trump as positive about Russia, while they do not. Just one in five Americans view Russia as friendly or an ally. But a majority believes that’s what Trump himself thinks.

Trump voters today are somewhat more positive towards Russia than his supporters were just after the party conventions last summer. Today, the percentage of Trump supporters viewing Russia as either unfriendly or as an enemy has dropped 11 points, from 67% then to 56% now. But just 29% of Trump voters think that Trump agrees with what most of them still think. Nearly half of his own voters say Trump views Russia as a friend or ally.

When it comes to Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin, Trump voters are more positive than the country as a whole, but there is still skepticism and dislike for Putin (though that has lessened since July). By three to one Putin is viewed as a strong leader, but only 21% have a favorable assessment of him. Among Trump voters more than a third are favorable, an increase of nine points since July.

Throughout the campaign, there were concerns about Donald Trump’s ability to handle Russia. There still are, though now just 45% say they are uneasy about his approach. Majorities felt that way throughout the campaign. But even today, only one in three are confident.

There is also quite a bit of skepticism about the Central Intelligence Agency, whose reported conclusion that there was Russian hacking to tilt the 2016 presidential election has been derided by Trump himself as “ridiculous.”

The CIA conclusion that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign during the election has been received with a partisan eye. Two-thirds of Clinton voters, but only 12% of Trump voters believe Russia was responsible for the hacks.

In fact, only 30% have “quite a lot” or a “great deal” of confidence in the CIA. One in four have “very little” confidence. Many Democrats may have lost faith in the CIA after weapons of mass destruction (a major justification for the 2003 Iraq War) were not found in Iraq following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. In a 2007 Gallup/USA Today Poll, for example, Democrats were more likely than Republicans to place blame on the CIA for that war not going well. But today, Republicans have less confidence than Democrats in the CIA.

As for assessing Wikileaks, which published the hacked docments, The party division evident during the summer has now become a chasm. Democrats, whose assessment of Wikileaks was close to even after the Edward Snowden revelations, but turned negative this summer, now are twice as likely to view Wikileaks unfavorably as favorably. Republicans, on the other hand, have completely turned around in their opinion since then, and are twice as likely to have favorable opinions of Wikileaks as unfavorable ones.

Many in the public don’t know much about most of the Cabinet nominees announced last week (the State and Energy choices, Exxon executive Rex Tillerson and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, were named after the poll was completed), but Americans do see a trend.

More than four in ten think Mr. Trump’s Cabinet appointment process is paying too much attention to the needs and problems of rich people, with similar percentages saying he is paying too little attention to the needs and problems of the poor, the middle class, small business, working people and people like themselves. More than a third see him as too attentive to Wall Street. Nearly a third aren’t sure.

But in all these cases, most of those who voted for Trump are convinced he is taking every one of these groups into account appropriately. A small minority, between 11% and 16%, of Trump’s voters say he is paying too much attention to the well-off, and too little to the needs of people like themselves.

Ben Carson, named as the President-elect’s choice for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, is one nominee who receives favorable ratings. Throughout the time Carson ran for the GOP Presidential nomination, he was liked by at least as many or even more than disliked him. In this poll 42% view Carson favorably, while 33% are unfavorable.

See the rest of this week's YouGov/Economist Poll

YouGov/Economist Poll archives