On Sunday night, America learned that Robert Mueller’s investigation had not established “that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government” in its efforts to sway the 2016 election — and that the special counsel had not reached any firm conclusion about whether the president had committed obstruction of justice.
Many pundits declared this a devastating blow to the Democratic Party’s political prospects. The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald described the unraveling of the media’s collusion “hoax” as a “major gift” to Donald Trump; Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi argued that the president “couldn’t have asked for a juicier campaign issue.”
Other bloviators suggested that Robert Mueller’s (unsurprising) findings would have no significant political impact: While a report that recommended criminal charges against the president or his family would have put wind in the Democrats sails, the absence of such a bombshell would have no durable impact on the president’s public standing. After watching the mogul dominate the nation’s political coverage for nearly four years, Americans already know how they feel about him. A brief summary of a special counsel’s inconclusive findings about two aspects of one of the president’s myriad scandals wasn’t going to win many hearts and minds.
At the moment, it’s impossible to know with certainty which of these positions will prove more prescient. Voters have had only 48 hours to process William Barr’s letter, and news can take time to enter the general public’s consciousness.
That said, we do now have two polls taken in the immediate aftermath of the Mueller probe’s conclusion — and both show Trump’s approval rating effectively unchanged. A Quinnipiac University poll that included calls made yesterday put Trump’s approval at 39 percent; three weeks ago, the pollster had him at 38.
Meanwhile, Morning Consult just released survey taken entirely after the release of Barr’s letter. It shows Americans disapproving of their president by a 55 to 42 percent margin, statistically identical to the pollster’s findings from the previous week.
Ironically, Morning Consult’s results would suggest that — to the extent that the Mueller probe’s anticlimactic conclusion had any effect on public opinion — it actually hurt Donald Trump. Asked whether they had a more or less favorable view of the president after learning of the special counsel’s principal conclusions, 39 percent said more favorable, while 43 percent said less. Meanwhile, 47 percent of voters said that Trump had tried to obstruct Mueller’s probe — up from 44 percent in February, while 52 percent said that it is “likely that Russia has compromising information on Trump”; last month, that figure was (a statistically identical) 51 percent.
Again: It’s still too early to reach any confident conclusions about whether Trump’s approval will rise as the cloud of “collusion” dissipates (in fact, it’s still probably a bit early to say with certainty that said cloud will dissipate). But early signs suggest that learning Robert Mueller will not be bringing charges against Donald Trump has not persuaded any significant number of Americans that the man who routinely echoes white nationalist propaganda, insults dead war heroes, and holds the entire government hostage to his unpopular immigration proposals is actually a good president, after all.