Published by The Lawfare Institute
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In late November, as part of our monthly tracking of confidence in institutions engaged in national security activities, we polled for the second month on the question of “How much confidence do you have in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's fairness and objectivity in investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and related matters?” In October, we found Mueller’s confidence rating remarkably low. Right after we ran the survey, Mueller issued his initial set of indictments. We immediately ran the survey again and saw a dramatic shift.
This time around, we saw nearly the same effect—if a bit more muted. When we ran the survey in late November, confidence had ebbed from its post-indictment spike last month. The average confidence in late November was 2.83, on a scale of one to five. As in October, a rating of 1—representing no confidence—was the plurality position, chosen by just over 30 percent. The highest rating of 5, by contrast, had slipped sharply from 30 percent in the previous run to 23 percent, though that figure was still higher than the 19 percent of respondents who chose 5 in the pre-indictment October run of the survey. In other words, confidence in Mueller had slipped significantly but was still notably higher than it was before the indictments of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates and the George Papadoupolos plea.
Immediately after we ran this survey, however, came the Mike Flynn plea a week ago. So from December 2-5, we once again ran the larger survey about confidence in Mueller and other actors investigating L’Affaire Russe. And once again, confidence in Mueller spiked.
This time the average confidence level shot up to 2.99—still slightly below the post-indictment high in October but notably above the confidence levels before Flynn’s plea. Respondents choosing 5 shot up by seven percent. Respondents choosing 1 dropped by three percent—making 5 once against the plurality position. Respondents choosing at least a 3 rose from 57 percent to 61 percent.
As we have seen in other surveys, there is widely-diverging opinion by political party identification. As with our November figures, nearly half of all Democrats have high confidence in the Muller investigation and only fifteen percent have no confidence. (Interestingly, the percentage of Democrats responding “no confidence” went up three percent since our November post-Papadopolous-plea-agreement survey.) Whereas among Republicans, only thirteen percent have high confidence in Mueller while 41 percent have no confidence. Independents, by contrast, are more evenly split, 30 percent responding with high confidence and 32 percent responding with no confidence.
In this December post-Flynn-plea survey, we also asked about confidence in the Executive Branch’s own investigations, which garnered lower confidence marks than the Special Counsel’s investigation. A plurality of respondents had no confidence in investigations of either the Justice Department (29 percent) or the FBI (27 percent). And only 15 percent of respondents had high confidence in the Justice Department, with a slightly higher percentage (22 percent) finding high confidence in the FBI.
When it comes to the Congressional investigations, the public has comparably low levels of confidence in both houses, with an average score of 2.58 for the Senate Intelligence Committee and an average score of 2.6 for the House Intelligence Committee.
The partisan breaks were not as pronounced with the Congressional investigations as they were on the Mueller investigation. Only fourteen percent of Democrats and ten percent of Republicans and Independents said they had high confidence in the Senate’s investigation. Among Republicans, 32 percent said they had no confidence in the Senate’s investigation, compared to 24 percent of Democrats and 29 percent of independents.
Looking at the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation, only eighteen percent of Democrats, nine percent of Republicans, and twelve percent of Independents had high confidence in the investigation. Also, 32 percent of Republicans, 26 percent of Democrats, and 30 percent of independents responded with no confidence in the House’s investigation. It is interesting to note that in both the House and the Senate’s investigations, self-identified Democrats demonstrated more confidence in the investigations, even though they are led by Republicans.
We will continue to check on confidence levels for these investigations on an ongoing basis, and as events warrant.
From Dec. 2-5, we once again used Google Surveys, which is supporting this project with a large in-kind donation of access to its survey platform, to ask a variety of questions related to ongoing investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Respondents are internet users over 18 who answer “surveywall” questions on websites that use Google Opinion Rewards for Publishers to access content. Surveys appear on a network of more than 1,500 sites, including USA Today and the Financial Times. For more information on Google Surveys’ methodology, including questions regarding sampling bias and inferred demographics, please see Google’s white paper on the topic. Benjamin Wittes and Emma Kohse also discussed criticisms and advantages of the Google Surveys methodology at some length in this paper.