Americans generally support the FBI searching Donald Trump's home at Mar-a-Lago

Linley SandersSenior Data Journalist
August 18, 2022, 6:47 PM GMT+0

Last week, former President Donald Trump’s home in Palm Beach, Fla., was raided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as agents searched for top-secret government documents that Trump took with him when he left the White House — a possible violation of the Presidential Records Act. As was the case during his presidency, Trump evokes very different points of view from Democrats and Republicans. In the latest Economist/YouGov poll, Americans are polarized when it comes to exactly how much they support nearly all Trump-related events last week.

Most Americans support the actions of the FBI and the principle of the Presidential Records Act, which says official presidential documents and classified materials must be given to the National Archives when a president leaves office. Nearly two-thirds of Americans (64%) and 55% of Republicans support the rule, with Democrats (78%) especially likely to back it.

More Americans approve than disapprove of the Justice Department investigation taking place (55% approve and 31% disapprove), with similar margins (54% vs. 36%) approving of the FBI executing a court-ordered search warrant of Trump's private home. Nearly three-quarters of Republicans (72%) disapprove of the FBI move.

About half (52%) of Americans disapprove of Trump taking presidential records to his private residence — 30% approve — and 57% would disapprove if Trump took documents related to nuclear weapons. Republicans approve of Trump taking presidential records by a two-to-one margin (54% approve, 27% disapprove), but Republicans are divided on whether they would approve of Trump taking nuclear-related documents to his home (36% approve, 36% disapprove). 

Republicans and Democrats alike approve of releasing the search warrant that brought the F.B.I. to Mar-A-Lago last week, and that warrant was released as the poll was concluding. But for the search itself, the gap in approval is large. Democrats approve by a margin of 84% to 10%; just 21% of Republicans approve while 72% disapprove. By a 10-point margin (47% to 37%) Independents approve. 

Does pleading the Fifth imply guilt?

As the search of Mar-a-Lago took place, Trump was in New York City preparing for a scheduled deposition with New York Attorney General Letitia James about the Trump Organization’s business practices. James is investigating whether Trump fraudulently inflated the values of his properties and other assets – something many Americans think he did. By 44% to 23%, or a margin of nearly two to one, Americans say Trump fraudulently inflated the value of his hotels, golf clubs, and other assets. But one-third (33%) are unsure. Half of Republicans (51%) believe he did not do this, while just 12% say he did.

Rather than answering questions from James, Trump invoked his Fifth Amendment rights and declined to answer questions. In a poll 20 years ago, Fox News asked a question about how Americans view people who take the Fifth Amendment. By 50% to 36%, Americans said that people who did this were choosing to invoke the Fifth Amendment because they were guilty. Now, the balance of opinion has shifted: Most Americans (56%) say that when someone cites their Fifth Amendment right by refusing to testify, they are simply exercising their right. Slightly fewer (44%) say that person is probably refusing to testify because they are guilty.

(The Fox News 2002 question was slightly different — "The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution protects citizens from being forced to make statements that could be used as evidence against them in trials. When someone cites his or her Fifth Amendment right in refusing to testify, do you generally think the person is probably guilty, or the person is simply exercising a right?" — and offered an option of "not sure"; it found that 14% of Americans were unsure.)

Donald Trump invoking the Fifth Amendment divides Americans: 41% approve of him doing this, and 44% do not. Republicans approve by 75% to 13%. Just one in five Democrats (20%) approve, while 69% disapprove.

Should Congress get Trump's taxes?

As president, Trump never released his tax returns despite it being a presidential tradition. By 53% to 30%, Americans say Trump should have released his tax returns while in office; only 24% of Republicans say he should have. Since 2019, Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee have tried to request Trump's tax returns as a part of its investigation into whether the former president complied with tax law. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has ruled that Congress has the authority to request such records.

By 51% to 30%, of Americans agree that congressional committees have the authority to require a current president to release tax returns to them — but the margin is a lot tighter for whether committees have the authority to require a former president to release tax returns to them (42% say yes, 38% say no). Republicans oppose Congressional demands in both cases, while Democrats support them in both. More Independents would require it of incumbents than wouldn't (41% to 30%) but are more divided when it comes to former presidents (32% to 37%). 

- Oana Dumitru and Carl Bialik contributed to this article

This poll was conducted on August 13 - 16, 2022 among 1,500 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this Economist/YouGov poll on President Trump, the FBI, and the Mar-a-Lago raid

Image: Getty Images - Joe Raedle / Staff