'Hung jury': Public remains divided over Mueller probe in NBC/WSJ poll

FILE - In this June 21, 2017, file photo, special counsel Robert Mueller departs after a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Mark Murray
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Sixty percent of Americans say President Donald Trump has been dishonest in the Russia investigation, while only a third believe the report by special counsel Robert Mueller clears the president of wrongdoing.

Still, the public remains divided on impeaching Trump, with nearly half of respondents opposing holding impeachment hearings, and with the other half supporting either immediate impeachment proceedings or future congressional investigations to study the issue further.

Those are the findings of the latest national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which was conducted after Mueller’s 448-page report was released to the public on April 18.

Not surprisingly, the poll shows a significant divide by party on these questions, with Democrats overwhelmingly believing the president has been dishonest and guilty of wrongdoing, and with Republicans overwhelmingly defending him.

And the survey results are remarkably consistent with past results on these same questions over the past year.

“The investigation into the 2016 election over the last two years … has done very little to shake Americans out of their partisan viewpoints,” said Republican pollster Micah Roberts, who conducted this survey with Democratic pollster Peter Hart and his firm Hart Research Associates.

And that partisan divide – for now – has produced a political stalemate when it comes to Trump and the Russia probe.

“The American public has reached a hung jury,” said Hart. “Not innocent, not guilty, and they haven’t reached a consensus.”

According to the poll, 60 percent of all respondents disagree with the statement that Trump has been honest and truthful when it comes to the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign, while just 37 percent agree.

These numbers are essentially unchanged when the NBC/WSJ poll last asked this question in February and December 2018.

By party, 92 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of independents believe Trump hasn’t been truthful, versus only 23 percent of Republicans.

Forty-two percent of Americans say what they’ve read, heard or seen about Mueller’s report doesn’t clear the president of wrongdoing, compared with 29 percent who say it does clear him.

Another 29 percent say they’re unsure.

Again, these numbers are almost identical to the findings on the same question from March – after Attorney General William Barr released his initial four-page summary of Mueller’s conclusions.

By party, 68 percent of Democrats and 44 percent of independents say that Mueller’s report doesn’t exonerate the president, versus just 11 percent of Republicans who agree.

“Move on” versus “dig in”

And on the question of impeachment, the public remains split: 48 percent of Americans – including eight-in-10 Republicans – believe that Congress shouldn’t hold impeachment hearings and that Trump should finish his term as president.

That’s compared with a combined 49 percent who say that Congress should begin impeachment hearings now (17 percent) or should continue investigating if there’s enough evidence to hold them in the future (32 percent).

Among Democratic respondents, 30 percent want impeachment hearings now, while 50 percent prefer to wait for more evidence.

“We see a divided country with Republicans saying move on, Democrats saying dig in and independents in the middle saying holding on,” said Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research Associates.

Trump’s job rating: 46 percent

The NBC/WSJ poll also finds 46 percent of Americans approving of Trump’s job – up 3 points since March, although the change is well within the poll’s margin of error.

Ninety percent of GOP respondents give the president a thumbs-up, compared with just 11 percent of Democrats and 38 percent of independents.

Trump gets higher marks on the economy, with 51 percent of all respondents approving of his handling of the issue.

(The poll was conducted before Friday’s news of 263,000 jobs created in April and with the unemployment rate falling to 3.6 percent.)

Still, the president’s chief economic policy – tax cuts he signed into law in late 2017 – remains underwater, with 27 percent saying it was a good idea, versus 36 percent believing it was a bad idea (-9).

By contrast, attitudes about Barack Obama’s health-care law are above water, with 41 percent thinking it’s a good idea, versus 37 percent who say it’s a bad idea (+4).

Measuring the 2020 race

Looking ahead to the 2020 presidential election, the NBC/WSJ poll shows a combined 41 percent of all registered voters saying they’re either enthusiastic or comfortable when it comes to Trump and his re-election, while a combined 59 percent say they have some reservations (10 percent) or are very uncomfortable (49 percent).

For former Vice President Joe Biden, who announced his presidential bid in late April, 47 percent are enthusiastic/comfortable, versus a combined 49 percent who have some reservations (25 percent) or are very uncomfortable (24 percent).

The last two NBC/WSJ surveys – this one and March’s – have used the same measurement to examine the 2020 Democratic field.

Among Democratic primary voters only:

  • Biden: 70 percent enthusiastic/comfortable, 27 percent reservations/uncomfortable
  • Bernie Sanders: 62 percent enthusiastic/comfortable, 36 percent reservations/uncomfortable (March poll)
  • Elizabeth Warren: 58 percent enthusiastic/comfortable, 33 percent reservations/uncomfortable (March)
  • Kamala Harris: 52 percent enthusiastic/comfortable, 27 percent reservations/uncomfortable (March)
  • Beto O’Rourke: 49 percent enthusiastic/comfortable, 29 percent reservations/uncomfortable (March)
  • Pete Buttigieg: 44 percent enthusiastic/comfortable, 13 percent reservations/uncomfortable
  • Cory Booker: 38 percent enthusiastic/comfortable, 28 percent reservations/uncomfortable
  • Amy Klobuchar: 27 percent enthusiastic/comfortable, 23 percent reservations/uncomfortable
  • Julian Castro: 22 percent enthusiastic/comfortable, 29 percent reservations/uncomfortable
  • Kirsten Gillibrand: 28 percent enthusiastic/comfortable, 30 percent reservations/uncomfortable


Future NBC/WSJ polls will test the remaining Democratic 2020 candidates.

Top issues: health care, immigration

Finally, asked what their No. 1 issue for the federal government to address is, 24 percent responded with health care, while 18 percent said immigration and border security.

That was followed by job creation/economic growth at 14 percent and national security, climate change and the deficit all tied at 11 percent each.

The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted April 28 to May 1 of 900 adults – nearly half reached by cell phone – and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.3 percentage points.
The margin of error for the 765 registered voters is plus-minus 3.5 percentage points, and it’s plus-minus 6.0 percentage for the 268 Democratic primary voters.