President Donald Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey has been discussed in the press as the modern-day Watergate scandal, heightening pressure for an independent investigation into Russia’s alleged ties with the Trump campaign.
The first polls to ask about Comey’s dismissal shows public opinion isn’t great for Trump. But if there’s good news for him, it’s that the firing is — at least so far — falling along party lines. Recent polls from Huffington Post, Politico, and NBC all reached the same conclusion: that Democrats and Republicans are divided on the Comey dismissal on party lines, with independents lining up slightly more with the Democratic point of view.
Initial news for Trump looked bad: NBC’s polling found the majority — 54 percent — of Americans found Trump’s move to be inappropriate. But looking deeper into those numbers unearths more partisan reactions. That same poll found that a strong majority was among Democratic or Democratic-leaning voters; 79 percent of Republicans thought it was fine. In contrast, 84 percent of Democrats found the decision to be “inappropriate.” The poll found 61 percent of independent voters found the firing to be inappropriate as well.
Politico’s polling found American voters overall were even more divided. Thirty-five percent said Trump was right to remove Comey, and almost the same share of voters said Trump should have kept Comey (33 percent) as were undecided or didn’t know (32 percent).
The reasons for Trump’s firing has also become a partisan issue. The official line from the White House is that Comey was fired because of his handling of the Clinton email investigation — a plurality of NBC’s polled Republicans (43 percent) say is the cause. But just a quarter of the total surveyed think this is the reason, with 46 percent saying Comey was fired because of the Russia investigation. A large majority of Democrats agree with this narrative, with 67 percent saying this is why Comey was fired.
These results further enforce just how polarized the nation has become, even with an extremely unorthodox presidency and administration that is currently under investigation for possible ties with foreign actors, has repeatedly challenged ethics rules, and misled the public.
Republicans are brushing this off
News of Comey’s firing certainly created some divisions among Republican politicians, who have expressed concern with Trump’s decision to fire a man currently investigating the administration. But overwhelmingly, the GOP’s leadership and ranking Republicans have stayed in line with the administration.
Republican leadership has toed the White House’s line on Comey’s dismissal.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he sees no need for a new investigation, and that a special prosecutor would only slow down the progress already being made by Congress and the intelligence community. House Speaker Paul Ryan said the same.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee that is currently conducting an investigation into Russia’s influence on the presidential election, went so far to advise those who are comparing Trump’s abrupt firing of James Comey from the FBI and Watergate, to “suck it up and move on.”
Republican voters appear to be overwhelmingly following suit on this specific instance.
But the decision to fire Comey has again elevated the congressional and intelligence community’s investigations into Russia’s influence in the 2016 election. On that broader story, polls show Americans forming more negative opinions about Trump’s possible connections to Russia, as Politico’s Steven Shepherd explained:
First, as Americans have formed opinions on the issue, it has been to Trump’s detriment. Since December, the percentage of undecided Americans on the Trump-Putin relationship has declined from 44 percent to 32 percent. At the same time, the percentage who view Trump as too friendly with the Russian leader has risen from 31 percent to 38 percent.
In other words, while Comey remains to be a partisan issue, the bigger news surrounding Russia and the Trump campaign seem to raising more eyebrows across party lines.