WASHINGTON — Six in 10 Americans say President Donald Trump has been untruthful about the investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, while half of the country says the investigation has given them doubts about Trump's presidency, according to a new national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
The survey, conducted a month after the results of November's midterm elections, also finds more Americans wanting congressional Democrats — rather than Trump or congressional Republicans — to take the lead role in setting policy for the country.
And just 10 percent of respondents say that the president has gotten the message for a change in direction from the midterms — when the GOP lost control of the U.S. House of Representatives but kept its majority in the U.S. Senate — and that he's making the necessary adjustments.
"The dam has not burst on Donald Trump," said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, whose firm conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff. "But this survey suggests all the structural cracks [that exist] in the dam."
The NBC/WSJ poll — conducted December 9-12 — comes after new developments in the Russia probe and other investigations involving the president, including evidence and allegations that:
- Trump and his team were offered "synergy" with the Russian government;
- Trump directed an illegal campaign-finance scheme to make payments covering up two alleged affairs in the last days of the 2016 campaign;
- Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort continued to communicate with Trump administration officials well after his indictment;
- and former Trump lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen was sentenced to prison for three years.
In a recent interview with Fox News, Trump denied directing Cohen to make the payments covering up the alleged affairs. "I never directed him to do anything wrong. Whatever he did he did on his own. He's a lawyer. A lawyer who represents a client is supposed to do the right thing that's why you pay them a lot of money."
Asked in the poll if Trump has been honest and truthful when it comes to the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign and related matters, 62 percent of all adults say they disagree. That includes 94 percent of Democrats, 64 percent of independents and a quarter (24 percent) of Republicans.
By contrast, 34 percent believe Trump has been honest and truthful about the investigation, including 70 percent of Republicans, 29 percent of independents and just 5 percent of Democrats.
These numbers are a slight shift from August, when 38 percent of registered voters agreed Trump has been honest and truthful about the investigation, and 56 percent disagreed.
"Last week's Cohen and Manafort news clearly hurt the president — no dramatic movement to be sure, but incremental erosion in President Trump's credibility," said Democrat pollster Fred Yang of Hart Research Associates.
Also in the poll, a combined 50 percent of Americans say the Russia investigation — led by special counsel Robert Mueller — has given them "major," "fairly major" or "just some" doubts about Trump's presidency, versus 44 percent who say it hasn't given them more doubts.
McInturff, the GOP pollster, says that the 44 percent without doubts is a "powerful reminder about the status of his political base."
What's more, a plurality of respondents — 46 percent — say the convictions and guilty pleas of members of Trump's 2016 campaign suggest potential wrongdoing by the president, compared with 23 percent who believe the wrongdoing is limited only to those individuals; 28 percent don't know enough to say.
And asked if Mueller's investigation should continue, 45 percent believe it should, while 34 percent think it should come to an end — essentially unchanged from August's NBC/WSJ poll.
More Americans want congressional Democrats — not Trump — in charge of setting policy
A month after the results from the 2018 midterm elections, 48 percent of Americans say they want Democrats in Congress to take the lead role in setting policy for the country, versus 21 percent who want congressional Republicans to take the lead and 19 percent who want Trump in charge.
The numbers are consistent with past results on this same question from the June and October 2017 NBC/WSJ polls.
Asked about Trump's response to the midterm elections, 10 percent of Americans say Trump has gotten the message that voters wanted a change in direction and that he's making the necessary adjustments; 22 percent say he got the message but is not making those adjustments; 33 percent say he didn't get the message; and 31 percent maintain the elections were not a message for a change in direction.
"The voters believe they sent a message, and they believe the president hasn't gotten it yet," said Yang, the Democratic pollster.
But McInturff counters that Trump is simply reflecting the overwhelming number of Republicans who feel positive about the results from the midterms and who don't believe it sent a message.
Forty-three percent approve of Trump's job
Trump's job rating in new NBC/WSJ poll stands at 43 percent approve, 54 percent disapprove among all adults. (Right before the midterms, it was 46 percent approve, 52 percent disapprove among registered voters.)
And looking ahead to 2020, a combined 38 percent of registered voters say they'd "definitely" or "probably" vote for Trump in his re-election, compared with 52 percent of voters who would "definitely" or "probably" vote against him - unchanged from December 2017.
Public is increasingly pessimistic about the economy
Finally, the poll finds the percentage of Americans believing the U.S. economy will get worse in the next 12 months is at its highest point since 2013.
Overall, 28 percent say the economy will get better in the next year, 33 percent think it will get worse and 37 percent believe it will stay about the same.
(Those numbers were essentially reversed last January: 35 percent said the economy would get better, 20 percent said it would get worse and 43 percent said it would stay the same.)
"For the first time in Trump's presidency, his safety net of a robust economy shows signs of unraveling," said Yang, the Democratic pollster.
"And remember, the booming economy didn't prevent voters from turning against Republicans in November," he added.
The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted December 9-12 of 900 adults - almost half of whom were reached by cell phone - and the overall margin of error in the survey is plus-minus 3.3 percentage points. The margin of error for the 725 registered voters in the poll is plus-minus 3.6 percentage points.