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Trump uses bad poll question to claim half of America thinks Mueller’s on a “witch hunt”

The president capitalizes on a poorly framed question in an outlier poll.

President Donald Trump trumpeted a new Suffolk/USA Today poll on Monday that he says shows half of America believing that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is a “witch hunt.”

If true, that finding suggests Trump’s regular, repetitive attacks on the special counsel are working.

It would also indicate anti-Mueller sentiment has significantly increased since December, when an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that only 33 percent of American adults viewed Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt,” compared to 54 percent who viewed it as a fair investigation.

It turns out, however, that Trump’s tweet was based on a poorly framed poll question and an even more poorly framed USA Today story about it that’s headlined: “Poll: Half of Americans say Trump is victim of a ‘witch hunt’ as trust in Mueller erodes.”

But the poll question on which that headline rests is seriously flawed. The question reads as follows: “President Trump has called the Special Counsel’s investigation a ‘witch hunt’ and said he’s been subjected to more investigations than previous presidents because of politics. Do you agree?”

It’s true that 50.3 percent of the poll’s 1,000 respondents said “yes” to that question. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they believe the Mueller investigation is a “witch hunt.” The prompt packs two different questions into one — a poor strategy for a poll question. Respondents simply may have meant to agree that Trump has been “subjected to more investigations than previous presidents because of politics” — a controversial but defensible position — without intending to go further and indicate they think Trump is the victim of a “witch hunt.”

Of course, Trump is not big on nuances, especially when it comes to polls that can be spun favorably for him or stories he can use to exonerate himself of Russia-related wrongdoing. Just last Friday, for instance, he falsely told reporters during a White House event that it “was proven” during Paul Manafort’s sentencing hearing earlier in the day that he didn’t collude with Russia. In fact, all the judge said was that the question of whether Trump’s campaign “conspired or colluded” with Russia “was not presented in this case.”

In any event, the poorly constructed Suffolk/USA Today poll question about Mueller represents a bit of an outlier. In addition to the aforementioned NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll that found only 33 percent of people regarded the special counsel’s investigation as a witch hunt, a Washington Post/Schar School poll conducted last month found that 56 percent of people regard Mueller as more credible than Trump, compared to only 33 percent who found Trump to be more credible. And a Hill.TV/American Barometer poll conducted in December found that 58 percent of people regarded Mueller’s investigation as “unbiased.”

Other parts of the Suffolk/USA Today poll contained bad news for Trump. Fifty-two percent of respondents said they have “little or no trust” in “President Trump’s denial that there was collusion in his campaign with Russian meddling,” compared to 30 percent who said they have “a lot of trust” in Trump’s word. A plurality of respondents also indicated they think congressional Democrats are doing the right thing in pursuing “aggressive” investigations of Trump.

On the prospect of impeachment, however, the poll does indicate that a solid majority — 62 percent — do not think that “the House of Representatives should seriously consider impeaching President Trump.” The poll was conducted after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said in an interview with the Washington Post Magazine that she’s “not for impeachment” because the process “is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it.”

While Pelosi’s comments frustrated many Trump critics, it appears her position is in line with the vast majority of Americans.

The news moves fast. To stay updated, follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter, and read more of Vox’s policy and politics coverage.