WASHINGTON – Half of Minnesota residents are very or somewhat concerned about Russian interference in U.S. elections, but there’s less certainty around the question of whether people connected to President Donald Trump engaged in improper coordination with Russian agents related to last year’s presidential campaign.
That’s according to the findings of a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll, which also found that just over a majority think that special counsel Robert Mueller has conducted a fair investigation into possible collusion with Russia during the campaign.
Trump has insisted that there was no collusion. But Mueller’s investigation has been a major distraction for the Republican president, casting a cloud over his first year in office and giving Democrats ammunition to raise doubts about Trump’s legitimacy. GOP congressional leaders were initially supportive of Mueller’s investigation, but a growing number have raised concerns that it’s dragging on too long.
“I feel like he’s doing his due diligence and it’s not something that is being pursued with an agenda,” said Matt Dunn, a Medina resident who was polled. “Either way, whatever happens is ultimately going to have reverberating impacts on our political party system, so I’m a little anxious to see what will happen as a result of the findings.”
The poll of 800 registered Minnesota voters was conducted Jan. 8-10 using both landlines and cellphones. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
In all, 33 percent of respondents said they were very concerned by Russian interference in U.S. elections, while another 17 percent were somewhat concerned. The rest said they were not too concerned, not concerned or not sure.
The U.S. intelligence community has concluded with high confidence that Russian forces did try to interfere in the 2016 election, and that Russian leadership preferred Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Lacking definitive answers about the possible coordination between Trump campaign officials, Minnesota Poll participants were evenly split when asked whether they believed anything occurred. Forty-three percent said yes and 44 percent said no, while another 13 percent weren’t sure.
“I’m concerned about it,” said Roger McNear, a 68-year-old personal trainer. “Whether or not our administration’s fingerprints are on it, or whoever’s fingerprints are on it, I don’t have any trust in our administration.”
Mary Hanson of Cannon Falls, who also was polled, thinks the matter has dragged on long enough.
“I think the American people are tired of hearing about it — we just want the economy picked up,” said Hanson, a 78-year-old food service worker at an elementary school.
Similar to views in April
The percentage of Minnesotans who believe people connected to Trump’s campaign were involved in Russian meddling has barely budged since a Star Tribune poll on the matter last April, when 42 percent said they were involved and 39 percent said they were not. The previous poll was conducted before legislative testimony revealed that Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., had a meeting with a Russian lawyer in June 2016 about potentially damaging information on Hillary Clinton.
Party affiliations also played a large role in views of Russian interference in the U.S. electoral system or the possible involvement of Trump associates. A full 45 percent of Republicans said they were not concerned about it, while another 36 percent were not too concerned. And 57 percent of independents were also not concerned or not too concerned. Among DFLers, 89 percent were very or somewhat concerned about Russian interference.
“They haven’t proven anything yet, but they just keep going on and on. I think that Democrats and Republicans should do for the best of the country — they’ve got us so divided now that I think other countries are looking down on us,” said Hanson, who added she also believes Mueller’s investigation of Trump has been unfair and biased.
“There’s presidents that I didn’t like that won, but that’s the way it is — that’s America,” she said.
McNear said he believes Mueller will conduct a fair investigation. “I think he’s a man of integrity and strong morals, and I think he’s doing the job he was appointed to do,” McNear said.
Another big gap in views of Trump and Russia surfaced between men and women, repeating similar findings throughout the poll that showed men generally backing Trump and his policies and women opposing him. Overall, 61 percent of women convey some level of concern about Russian meddling in American elections, while 61 percent of men said they are either not too concerned or not concerned at all. Far more women believe that the campaign had improper dealings with Russian agents (50 percent) than men (35 percent).
Divisions also emerged between residents of Minneapolis-St. Paul and nearby suburbs and residents of the rest of the state.
Fifty-two percent of southern Minnesota residents and 62 percent of those from northern Minnesota don’t believe Russian interference occurred, while 57 percent of Hennepin and Ramsey County residents believe it did.
Likewise, 37 percent of southern Minnesotans say that Mueller’s investigation has been unfair, a figure that jumps to 48 percent for northern Minnesotans. Just 20 percent of people in Hennepin and Ramsey counties give the same answer.
Dunn, of Medina, believes that the possible intent to collude with Russian agents is the most important element of the case.
“In my opinion, it may not have influenced the election, but the element of colluding with the Russian government … that to me is more damning and they should hold Trump and his officials accountable,” said Dunn. “There’s no place for that in our modern-day society.”