July 21, 2017 | By Dina Smeltz, Lily Wojtowicz

Trust Trump to Negotiate with Putin? Americans Say Nyet

US President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the their bilateral meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Today, the Washington Post reported that some of President Trump’s outside legal counsel have looked into who the president can pardon including whether he can pardon his family or even himself. This news follows the recent bombshell that Donald Jr., his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and his then-campaign manager Paul Manafort met last summer with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have compromising information about Hillary Clinton. While news of Jr.’s meeting broke at home, all eyes in Hamburg, Germany were on Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin when they met on the sidelines of the G20 meeting last month, eclipsing much of the news from the official proceedings.

Apparently, Trump and Russian President Putin hit it off when they met at the G20 last month in Hamburg, Germany. Their meeting, which included Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, had been scheduled for only thirty minutes but lasted about two hours. Since then, reports have disclosed that President Trump had another subsequent private conversation with Putin at a dinner with G20 summit leaders and their spouses, with only the Kremlin-provided interpreter present. Americans are more cautious about reaching out to Russia than perhaps President Trump. Only 15 percent of Americans have a favorable view of Putin (according to a July 8-12 Bloomberg poll), and 50 percent said that Trump was “too friendly” in his attitude toward Russia (42% said his attitude is about right in a June 22-27 Quinnipiac poll).  An even more recent (July 10-13, 2017) ABC News/Washington Post survey finds that a majority of Americans say they have little to no trust in Donald Trump to negotiate on “America’s behalf with Russian leader Vladimir Putin” (66%, with 32% a great deal or good amount of trust). 

After the first meeting, Tillerson reported that President Trump had pressed Putin about Russian meddling in the US election, but Trump had moved the discussion along after Putin refused to acknowledge Russian interference. For his part, Putin reported that he had denied Russia’s involvement in the US presidential election and he believed that his answer had “satisfied” Trump. But a majority of Americans would not be satisfied:  six in ten (60%) think that the Russian government tried to influence the 2016 US presidential election, though only 44 percent think that Trump benefitted from this interference.  Even before last night’s news that Trump may be looking for ways to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller, more Americans say that Donald Trump is trying to interfere with investigations of possible Russian involvement rather than cooperating (52% to 37%)(ABC/WaPo). Two in three Americans (64%) believe Trump was more concerned about protecting his administration than about protecting the United States, according to a recent CBS News poll.

Asked about the meeting between Donald Trump Jr. et al and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya to obtain damaging information about Hillary Clinton, nearly two-thirds (63%) of the American public believe it was inappropriate for the three Trump associates to attend the meeting. Even before these meetings came to light, a June NPR/PBS/Marist poll showed that a majority of Americans believed that Trump’s campaign associates did something either illegal (33%) or unethical (25%). A narrow majority said that Trump himself has done something either illegal (25%) or unethical (29%).  With all of these polls, there are wide partisan divides, with Democrats expressing concern over possible Russian influence and possible Trump campaign involvement, and Republicans tending to dismiss these charges.

Despite Americans’ unfavorable views of Putin, Americans think it is better to cooperate with Russia than actively try to limit its power. The June NPR/PBS/Marist poll found that 59 percent said it would be better to build a relationship with Russia than treat Russia as a threat. More self-described Republicans (67%) than Democrats (46%) favor building better relations, which seem to reflect an interesting partisan shift since Donald Trump became president.  In December 2016, the Chicago Council Survey found that 56 percent of Americans said the US should cooperate with Russia.  But in that poll, Democrats (62%) were more likely than Republicans (50%) to cooperate.  This partisan shift signals that the first six months of the Trump administration have moved Republicans toward a more favorable position – and Democrats toward a less favorable one – regarding US-Russia cooperation. Our new 2017 Chicago Council Survey results, expected next week, will demonstrate whether and how GOP opinion has moved on other foreign policy issues. 


Dina Smeltz joined The Chicago Council on Global Affairs in February 2012 as a senior fellow in public opinion and foreign policy, and directed the Council’s 2012 survey of American public opinion (see Foreign Policy in the New Millennium).  She has nearly 20 years of experience in designing and fielding international social, political and foreign policy surveys.

As the director of research in the Middle East and South Asia division (2001-2007) and analyst/director of the European division (1992-2004) in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the US State Department’s Office of Research, Dina conducted over a hundred surveys in these regions and regularly briefed senior government officials on key research findings. Her experience includes mass public and elite surveys as well as qualitative research.  She has written numerous policy-relevant reports on Arab, Muslim and South Asian regional attitudes toward political, economic, social and foreign policy issues.  Her writing also includes policy briefs and reports on the post-1989 political transitions in Central and Eastern Europe, and European attitudes toward a wide range foreign policy issues including globalization, European integration, immigration, NATO, and European security.

With a special emphasis research in post-conflict situations (informally referred to as a “combat pollster”), Dina has worked with research teams in Bosnia, Kosovo, Cyprus, Israel-Palestinian Territories and in Iraq (2003-2005), where she was one of the few people on the ground who could accurately report average Iraqis impressions of the postwar situation.  In the past three years, Dina has consulted for several NGOs and research organizations on projects spanning women’s development in Afghanistan, civil society in Egypt and evaluating voter education efforts in Iraq.

Dina has an MA from the University of Michigan and a BS from Pennsylvania State University.

Feel free to email Dina with comments or questions at dsmeltz@thechicagocouncil.org


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