Americans are divided on whether a president can pardon himself

December 23, 2020, 6:00 PM UTC

This week, President Donald Trump issued 44 pardons for federal crimes and 20 commutations of sentences, the lowest number for a President in 100 years.

They include pardons for political friends and military offenses, but there were also former pardons for non-violent drug offenses. Earlier this year, the president provided posthumous pardons for Susan B. Anthony, the women’s suffrage leader who voted illegally before the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, and former heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, the first Black American to hold that title, who was convicted for his relationships with white women.  

There may be many more pardons before President Trump leaves office on January 20. The most recent pardons, granted on December 22 (after this poll was completed), included pardons of three former GOP Representatives, one of whom was convicted of insider trading, the other two of misusing campaign funds.  

The President’s actions in granting pardons divide the country in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, as they so often have during his Administration. Republicans overwhelmingly believe he has used the pardon power appropriately (81%); Democrats disagree (72%). 

But Americans see one pardon – one some have suggested might happen – a little differently. By more than two to one (51% vs 19%), Americans reject the possibility of the president pardoning himself. On this question, Republicans are closely divided (34% say he has this power, 30% say he does not).  

Only one in three (32%) of those who voted for the president in November believe he has the power to pardon himself.  

There is far more GOP support for the president’s ability to pardon members of his family and close advisers (like his legal counsel Rudy Giuliani) prospectively – before they have been convicted or even charged with a crime. This is the type of pardon President Gerald Ford gave to former President Richard Nixon in 1974, granting a “full, free, and absolute pardon … for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from January 20, 1969 through August 9,1974.” In other words, Nixon was granted a pardon for anything he might have done while in office.  

Most Republicans (53%) believe the President could grant those pardons; Democrats disagree (53%). There are also gender differences on all three questions about pardons. Men are more willing than women to say the president can pardon himself and his close associates prospectively and are more likely than women are to think he has used the power appropriately so far.  

Republicans are still unhappy about the election outcome, believing there was enough fraud in the vote to change the election outcome. Only 35% in this week’s poll say President Trump should concede. However, a plurality of Republicans and Trump voters expect that Joe Biden will be inaugurated as president on January 20.  

2020 Post Election: Results
 

Related: Face mask wearing is up, but willingness to be vaccinated is not 

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov Poll 

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adults interviewed online between December 19 - 22, 2020. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 3.3% for the overall sample.   

Image: Getty