WASHINGTON — Even as the White House claims vindication from the summary of special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings in the Russia probe, the American public does not see a clear verdict about whether President Donald Trump has been cleared of wrongdoing.
According to a new NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll, 29 percent of Americans say they believe Trump has been cleared of wrongdoing, based on what they have heard about Mueller’s findings, while 40 percent say they do not believe he has been cleared.
But a third of Americans — 31 percent — say they’re not sure if Trump has been cleared. That includes nearly half of independents (45 percent) and about a quarter of both Democrats (27 percent) and Republicans (25 percent.)
Respondents were asked about their views of the special counsel’s work on March 25-27, beginning the day after Attorney General William Barr released his summary of Mueller’s report that stated the probe “did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”
Barr also reported that Mueller declined to make a determination on whether Trump obstructed justice. The attorney general informed Congress Friday that more of Mueller's report will be released by mid-April.
"The public is still in a wait-and-see view of this investigation and what it means for Trump,” said Jeff Horwitt of the Democratic firm Hart Research, which conducted the poll along with Republican pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies.
Much of that ambiguity may be because less than half of the public says they have been deeply engaged with reporting about Barr’s summary of Mueller’s findings.
While a large majority of Americans — 78 percent — say they have heard about Mueller submitting his final report, only 39 percent say they have heard “a lot” about the story. That’s a smaller share of the population than those who said they had heard a lot about other significant stories in Trump’s political history, including his decision to fire James Comey (56 percent) or the release of the Access Hollywood videotape (66 percent).
“However substantial this event was in the Washington, D.C., community and maybe our political culture, it was not an event that captured the American public,” said McInturff.
The narrative about the Mueller probe has also not significantly affected the president’s approval rating, which stands at 43 percent. Fifty-three percent of Americans disapprove of his job performance.
In February, Trump’s approval rating stood at 46 percent, but this month’s shift is within the poll’s margin of error.
Since last month, fewer Americans now say that the Mueller probe has given them more doubts about Trump’s presidency. In the NBC/WSJ February poll, 48 percent of Americans said the investigation gave them more doubts, while 47 percent disagreed. Now, 36 percent said they have more doubts about Trump as a result of the probe, compared with 57 percent who disagree.
But nearly all of that shift came among Democrats. In February, 82 percent of Democrats expressed more doubts as a result of the investigation, compared with just 61 percent now. But the same period of time saw no increase in Trump’s overall approval rating among Democrats.
Warning signs for Trump for 2020 — and some Democratic presidential candidates, too
While the poll did not find a significant shift in the president’s approval rating, it showed some continued weak spots as he prepares to run for re-election.
Overall, half of registered voters say they are “very uncomfortable” with his candidacy while an additional 9 percent say they have “some reservations.”
Among those saying they’re “very uncomfortable” are at least half of several traditional swing voter groups, such as independents (50 percent saying they are “very uncomfortable”), suburban women (56 percent) and moderates (57 percent).
In contrast, just 26 percent of voters overall say they’re “enthusiastic” about Trump’s 2020 bid, with another 14 percent saying they are “comfortable.”
But some Democratic candidates also face significant discomfort from the voting public, too.
A combined 58 percent of voters are either uncomfortable (37 percent) or have reservations about (21 percent) Bernie Sanders’ 2020 bid. For Elizabeth Warren, it’s a combined 53 percent. And for Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke, it’s 41 percent of voters expressing either reservations or discomfort.
For Joe Biden, who has yet to formally announce a presidential bid, a combined 47 percent are either enthusiastic (17 percent) or comfortable (30 percent) with him as a candidate, compared with 48 percent who say they’re either uncomfortable or have reservations.
Democrats name Biden as most acceptable of well-known candidates
Among just Democratic primary voters, Biden appears to be the most palatable presidential candidate at the moment.
A combined 73 percent of Democrats say they’re either enthusiastic (33 percent) or comfortable (40 percent) with Biden as a candidate, while just 25 percent either have reservations (19 percent) or are uncomfortable (6 percent).
Democratic discomfort is higher for the two well-known candidates who have been most outspoken on progressive policy proposals: Sanders and Warren.
For Sanders, 27 percent of primary voters say they have reservations while 9 percent are very uncomfortable.
For Warren, 23 percent of Democratic primary have reservations, and 10 percent are very uncomfortable.
More than a quarter of Democrats also express some hesitation about Beto O’Rourke (22 percent with reservations, 7 percent uncomfortable) and Kamala Harris (21 percent with reservations, 6 percent uncomfortable). But a significant chunk of Democratic voters — about one in five — don’t know enough about those candidates to express an opinion.
Most Americans have heard of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Since her surprise win in her New York congressional district primary last year, progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become one of the more recognizable political figures in the country, the poll finds.
More than seven-in-ten Americans (72 percent) say they know enough about Ocasio-Cortez to form an opinion of her — a swift rise in name ID for a relatively new figure on the national scene.
Among all Americans, 23 percent have a positive opinion of her, while 34 percent have a negative one.
The intensity of feelings toward the New York congresswoman is stronger on the political right than on the left. Forty-six percent of Democrats have a positive opinion of her, while 64 percent of Republicans have a negative one.
Among those who regularly watch Fox News, 55 percent say they have a negative opinion of Ocasio-Cortez. That’s more than twice the share of those who regularly watch broadcast news to stay informed.
The full NBC/WSJ live-caller survey was conducted March 23-27, 2019. Questions related to the release of a summary of the Mueller report were asked March 25-27. The margin of error for 1,000 adults surveyed is +/- 3.1 percent. The margin of error for registered voters is +/- 3.45 percent. The margin of error for Democratic primary voters is +/- 5.82 percent.