I know that it’s only one poll, and that poll results can be pretty dodgy. (See “2016 U.S. Presidential Election.”) But the results of a new Gallup survey on Americans’ views towards U.S.-Russia relations seem well worth spotlighting anyway, especially given the continuing unrelenting headlines being generated by the alleged Trump-Russia scandals, by all the evidence of Russian meddling in American politics, and various investigations of the above.
Gallup asked respondents whether it’s “more important to improve relations with Russia” or “more important to take strong diplomatic and economic steps against Russia.” And by a healthy 58 percent to 36 percent margin, the “improve relations” option won out. Just as striking is that a hard line against Moscow is strongly opposed even though 75 percent of the public believes that Russia interfered in the last presidential election, and 39 percent believes that such activities “changed the outcome.”
As predictable these days, these views are sharply divided along partisan lines. But what’s less predictable is that the Democrats come across as the most intense partisans by far. To be sure, their support for a “hard” vs a “soft” line toward Russia wasn’t overwhelming – 51 percent for the former, 45 percent for the latter. But it contrasted sharply not only with the opinion of Republicans (who favored a softer line by a lopsided 74 percent to 22 percent margin). Democrats’ views also differed significantly from those of independents (who favored a softer line by 55 percent to 37 percent).
And this Gallup survey makes it tough to blame supposed public apathy or ignorance for these findings. Specifically, two-thirds of respondents told Gallup they were following news about Russia and the 2016 election “closely” and 33 percent reported following such developments “very closely.” Gallup contends that this level of attention is “slightly above” the norm for their news attentiveness results going back to 1991.
Moreover, Gallup reports that the more closely its sample members followed the story, the likelier they were to believe that Russia interfered and that its interference mattered. Indeed, ninety percent of the true newshounds accepted the meddling claims. But only 51 percent of this highly attentive group believed that the alleged Russian operations changed the outcome. And those respondents who were following such news only somewhat closely split nearly evenly on the matter (with 42 percent agreeing that the meddling affected the outcome and 40 percent disagreeing)
The same pattern was evident when it came to views on Russia relations options. Of those Americans following these stories very closely, a majority favored the harder line. But the margin was only 53 percent to 42 percent. The results for Americans following the Russia coverage only somewhat closely was the reverse – and then some. Only thirty-seven percent backed the hard line while fully 59 percent opposed it.
When combined with other Gallup findings that, through June, the constellation of Trump-Russia issues wasn’t even moving the needle in terms of Americans’ rankings of their top concerns, this new survey indicates that, unless a genuine smoking gun is uncovered, Democrats would be best advised to stress other anti-Trump messages in their campaigns this year to regain control of Congress. For if voters were strongly responsive, wouldn’t they be demanding that their leaders make Russia pay dearly for an attack on their democracy? At the same time, since voter turnout in mid-term elections is typically very low, hammering away at Russia and impeachment etc could possibly bring to the polls more “resistance” true believers and swing some close races.
The implications for the next presidential race – again, barring a smoking fun – seem clearer: In such a generally higher turnout race, voters are likely to be paying much more attention to the standard array of pocketbook and cultural issues (along with foreign policy, if crises break out) than to whatever’s left of the Trump-Russia controversy.