About half the American public agrees with Michael Cohen’s characterization of the president of the United States as a racist and a con man, according to a HuffPost/YouGov survey taken after Cohen, Donald Trump’s former longtime personal attorney, testified before Congress. But that hearing, like a string of other significant developments, has done little to budge Americans’ ossified views of the investigation into Trump’s presidential campaign.
“I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr. Trump’s illicit acts rather than listening to my own conscience,” Cohen, who pleaded guilty last year to charges including an effort to influence the 2016 election, said in his opening statement. “I am ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is. He is a racist. He is a con man. He is a cheat.”
Americans say, 48 percent to 35 percent, that they believe Trump is a racist, with 17 percent unsure. They say, 50 percent to 27 percent, that they believe Trump has committed financial fraud, with 23 percent unsure.
Cohen’s testimony before the House oversight committee on Thursday captivated political onlookers, largely overshadowing Trump’s much-touted summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un the same day. While the president met with leaders in Vietnam, his former fixer was accusing him of lying to the American public, inflating his net worth and issuing directions to threaten hundreds of people.
Trump, whose approval rating just recently recovered from the hit it took during the government shutdown, now faces a news cycle focused on the documented malfeasance in his inner circle. But while the Cohen hearing may push forward Democrats’ ongoing investigation and reinforce already widespread doubts about the president’s integrity, the survey suggests, views of his conduct have yet to worsen appreciably further.
A 58 percent majority of Americans believe that Cohen ― whom, they were told, pleaded guilty last year to eight criminal charges ― did something wrong during the 2016 campaign, with a tenth saying he did nothing wrong and the rest that they’re not sure. About 41 percent of the public believes both that Cohen did something wrong and that his actions are part of a larger pattern of wrongdoing in the Trump administration, rather than an isolated incident. Those numbers suggest there’s been relatively little movement in public opinion since Cohen’s conviction last August, when 53 percent said he did at least something wrong, and 38 percent that his actions reflected a broader pattern of wrongdoing.
Only a quarter of Americans think Cohen is more trustworthy than Trump, with 31 percent considering Trump to be more trustworthy. The remaining 44 percent trust neither or aren’t sure.
Reactions remain starkly divided along political lines. More than 80 percent of Hillary Clinton voters believe both that Cohen did something wrong in the past election, and that his actions were part of a larger pattern in the White House. Even more, 92 percent, believe that Trump is a racist and that he has committed financial fraud.
“Michael Cohen presented damning evidence against President Trump that Democrats should use to conduct an investigation and possibly impeach, and Republicans attempted to turn the hearing into a spectacle by refusing to ask Cohen any substantive questions,” one Clinton voter who followed the hearings summarized. (Another Clinton voter offered, less charitably, “A lying weasel con man declared that the president is a lying weasel con man.”)
Trump and his allies, however, worked hard to discredit Cohen to the president’s base. During the hearing, Republican lawmakers routinely attacked Cohen, and the Republican National Committee set up a war room to hit back at his allegations.
Not surprisingly then, Trump voters have soured on Cohen ― 46 percent now say he did something wrong, up from about a third last year, and most who followed the hearings have little confidence he conducted himself honestly. But fewer than a tenth believe his actions are part of a broader pattern in the White House.
“Michael Cohen is a broken man who wants to bring down Trump for his success through lies and deceit,” wrote one Trump voter who tuned in for part of the hearing. Others described the proceeding as a “witch hunt,” echoing the party line.
Trump voters say, 83 percent to 9 percent, that Trump is not a racist, and 66 percent to 10 percent that the president has not committed financial fraud. About a quarter were unsure whether the president committed financial fraud.
Nonvoters say, 43 percent to 24 percent, that Trump is racist, and 46 percent to 18 percent that he has committed financial fraud, but many remain unsure. More than 40 percent of nonvoters are unsure about whether Cohen did anything wrong.
Most who watched the hearing say the GOP was playing politics
About 41 percent of those polled report tuning in for at least part of Cohen’s testimony, with 73 percent having either watched or consumed news about the hearing later. (Because survey respondents tend both to overreport their civic engagement, and to be somewhat more engaged than average in the first place, those numbers are likely a little high.) Trump’s opponents were most likely to be paying attention: 55 percent of Clinton voters watched at least part of the hearing, compared to 43 percent of Trump voters, although the vast majority in both camps say they’ve at least followed news about Cohen’s testimony. Forty-two percent of nonvoters say they didn’t hear anything about the story.
Of those who paid at least some attention to the story, half say they’re at least somewhat confident that Cohen was telling the truth at the hearing, with 38 percent expressing little or no confidence. They are evenly split on whether Democratic representatives at the hearing were making an honest attempt to get to the truth, or just playing politics, but say, 58 percent to 25 percent, that the GOP members were playing politics.
About a third say the hearing worsened their views of the Trump administration, and 11 percent that it improved their view, but the plurality, 48 percent, say their views didn’t change.
Not much polling on reactions to the Cohen hearing is yet available. But other recent surveys taken before the testimony similarly show that relatively little in public opinion has changed over the past year.
Use the widget below to further explore the results of the HuffPost/YouGov survey, using the menu at the top to select survey questions and the buttons at the bottom to filter the data by subgroups:
The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Feb. 27-28 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.
HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.
Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some but not all potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.