Via Benjamin Wittes for Lawfare
For some time, I have been frustrated by the poor state of public opinion data on national security matters. There’s virtually no long-term temperature polling of public attitudes towards major national security policy areas, and I’ve been talking to a variety of people about how Lawfare might fix that.
One instrument I’m particularly interested in is Google Surveys, which allows virtually anyone to become a pollster. A few months ago, Emma Kohse and I used it to produce this paper on public attitudes towards privacy matters. And I’ve been thinking more recently about developing a consistent stream of data on national security law and policy attitudes.
Partly because I’ve been thinking about this, more generally, this week, when President Trump tweeted his latest attack on former FBI Director James Comey, I put together a quick survey on the following question: “Who do you believe is telling the truth about the interactions between President Donald Trump and former FBI Director James Comey?”
— Benjamin Wittes (@benjaminwittes) July 13, 2017
The results are, in my judgment anyway fascinating. For one thing, they show a remarkable degree of public confusion and uncertainty as to what or whom to believe. Nearly 36 percent of the public responded “I don’t know”—more than any other answer. An additional 18 percent of respondents said they believe “neither.” That’s 54 percent of a national sample that either mistrusts both or just doesn’t know what to think.
The other striking feature of the poll is that the mistrust of the President is pretty extreme. Only 17 percent of Americans believe their president is telling the truth about his interactions with his FBI Director. If you exclude those who “don’t know” or believe “neither” and focus only on respondents who choose between the two men, 64 percent believe Comey over Trump. That’s an extraordinary lack of confidence in the President’s honesty, one that numerically must reflect at least some significant number of Republicans who don’t believe the President on this matter.
These results are broadly consistent with, if somewhat more dramatic than, other polling on the matter. An ABC/Washington Post poll conducted from June 2-4 found that 21 percent of respondents trusted Trump’s comments on Russian election interference and similar issues “a great deal” or “a good amount,” versus 36 percent who trusted Comey to that degree. Seventy-two percent trusted Trump “just some” or “not at all” on the matter, while 55 percent felt the same toward Comey. There are also polls that, like mine, have Comey and Trump facing off directly: a Politico/Morning Consult poll conducted between June 8-12 found that 45 percent of respondents trusted Comey more “to tell you the truth,” while 32 percent trusted Trump more and 23 percent didn’t know or had no opinion. Likewise, a Rasmussen poll conducted between June 6-7 reported that 45 percent of respondents trusted Comey more than Trump, 37 percent trusted Trump more than Comey, and 18 percent were undecided.
Notably, these polls all agree that Comey enjoys a substantially greater degree of public trust than does Trump, but the Google Surveys poll shows a far greater percentage of individuals who remain undecided and a far lesser percentage who believe the President. This could reflect different question wording (this poll did not ask about trust but about whom the respondent believes), or it could reflect an erosion of confidence in the President’s truthfulness over time.
Just to be clear, this is not one of those unscientific internet polls like you can do on Twitter. Google Surveys is a real public opinion instrument. I had nothing to do with identifying the sample of people who responded to this poll, and they had no idea the poll had come from me. All I did was write the question.