Morgan Marietta Ph.D.

Inconvenient Facts

Mueller, Schmueller: The Rejection of the Mueller Report

Part II: early evidence the Mueller Report is being rejected

Posted Mar 29, 2019

“Each sees in the world what is present in their heart” -Goethe, Faust

Goethe is a bit high-minded and depressing, but I noticed the same sentiment the other day while watching Christopher Robin with my toddler:

Pooh: “What do you see?”

Piglet: “Panic, worry, catastrophe”

Tigger: “Speed, danger, recklessness”

Eeyore: “Disgrace, shame, humiliation

My son said, “Yuthlble! Buvvhthe ulhwthul!” Which I presume meant, “Blueberries, trains, dogs!” Because those are the things he seems to think about the most.

The early evidence of how the public is reacting to the Mueller Report reveals a similar projection of personal values onto factual perceptions. The polling firm SSRS conducted a national poll for CNN to look into initial reactions to the Report. Only 13 percent of the population says that the Report will influence them in any way. 7 percent are undecided about their vote in 2020 and say the findings make them “more likely to support Trump,” while 6 percent take the opposite view that they are undecided but the findings make them “less likely to support Trump.” A larger 17 percent are undecided about voting for Trump but say the Report will “make no difference.”

When you break down the results among partisans, the usual massive differences in perceptions appear. But what about Independents? Among that rare breed, most say their minds are already made up about their vote in 2020 (64 percent). Another 19 percent say they are undecided but the Report makes no difference. Only 15 percent of Independents say the Report leads them in one direction or the other, 6 percent claiming the Report makes them more likely to support Trump and 9 percent less likely. No positive movement for Trump coming from the Report.

When we look at presidential approval polls, the effects are minimal. According to RealClearPolitics, three major polling firms have conducted job approval measures in the days following the release and also have polls in the weeks right before for comparison purposes (the Economist, Rasmussen, and Politico). After the release: average presidential approval of 45.7 percent (46, 49, 42). Before the release: 44 percent (42, 49, 41). A bit of a bump, but not a major one given the dominant news coverage of the Report.

Ordinary citizens have many mechanisms to maintain their previous positions regardless of new evidence:

·      Mueller must be corrupt (it is more likely that the source is lying than that I was wrong)

·      I wasn’t really wrong because future investigations will still bear out my views (see Phil Tetlock on how experts dodge responsibility for erroneous predictions)

·      It was always obstruction of justice or financial crimes that were more likely

If those beliefs about obstruction or other financial wrongdoing turn out to be backed by evidence, will Trump’s supporters believe it? Unlikely. As Trump famously said, he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his supporters would still vote for him. He hasn’t yet, but there have been other casualties. Humility. Uncertainty. And as we will discuss in a future post, tolerance of our fellow citizens who see things differently.

(Note: for a similar argument about reactions to the Mueller Report, see Emily Moon in Pacific Standard)