American public largely supported the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump’s estate, new survey finds

protestors holding flags and signs
Protesters stand outside as Donald Trump’s lawyers enter Brooklyn Federal Court on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022, in New York. Lawyers for Trump and for the Justice Department are to appear in federal court in Brooklyn on Tuesday before a veteran judge named last week as special master to review the roughly 11,000 documents — including about 100 marked as classified — taken during the FBI’s Aug. 8 search of Mar-a-Lago. AP Photo/Brittainy Newman

Americans by and large say they support the FBI’s Aug. 8 raid on former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, while Republican and Democratic opinion remains divided along party lines, according to a new survey published by the COVID States Project.

Researchers with project—a multi-university collaborative that includes Northeastern—asked a series of open-ended questions designed to gauge public support for the search that was initiated as part of a federal probe into the classified documents Trump came to possess after he left the White House. 

The raid opened yet another ugly chapter in Trump’s controversial political career that many have speculated could result in a federal indictment of the former president—an unprecedented move that could have far-reaching consequences for both political parties.   

headshot of david lazer
David Lazer, distinguished professor of political science and computer and information science. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

The survey, conducted three days after the raid took place, found that overall Americans approved of the search, with about 51% of respondents saying they did to the 27% that said they did not. Another 22% said they neither supported nor opposed it.

Researchers found overwhelming support for the search among Democrats, with about 84% saying they approved of it to just 3% who said they did not. Roughly 69% of Democrats noted that they strongly supported the search.

Unsurprisingly, a significant majority of Republicans opposed the raid, with 64% saying they opposed it compared to 13% who expressed support. Roughly 47% of Republicans strongly opposed the search. As time went on, however, researchers found that the somewhat united Republican opposition to the raid began to wane over the course of a two-week period in which the survey was conducted compared to the Democrats’ steadfast support for it. 

Independents, the survey shows, were nearly twice as likely to support the search than oppose it by a margin of some 47% to 24%. About 32% of independents said they strongly supported the raid.

David Lazer, university distinguished professor of political science and computer sciences and co-author of the study, says that, amid questions of whether federal investigation into Trump was fundamentally politically motivated, the survey finds widespread support for a more universal application for the rule of law.  

“The good news here is that the survey conveys support for the rule of law,” Lazer says. “[The results] say that you should be able to conduct a search of a former president if evidence suggests that they potentially broke the law, and that they would be subject to the law.”

“The fact that you still have this partisan divide, however,” he continued, “highlights the fact that you could still end up with a majority of Congress, come January 2023, that is opposed to what happened in August despite the fact the majority of the American public feels otherwise.”

Indeed, the range of survey responses shed light on the mood of a divided country. 

“He’s no better than anyone else. He has to abide by the law just like ordinary citizens,” one respondent, a 71-year-old moderate Democrat, said. 

Others offered elaborate explanations linked to Trump’s own political rhetoric and theories dating back to the 2016 election. 

“The search was just another in a long line of witch hunt hoaxes generated by the liberal left Democrats,” another respondent, a 69-year-old self-identified conservative Republican, said. “They are still mad that Hillary lost the 2016 election. Trump is not part of the political establishment that protects their own at all costs.”

Asked about how he thinks public attitudes toward the raid might translate into votes for either party during next month’s midterms, Lazer drew on ongoing generic ballot research, noting that there appears to be little change in voters’ disposition.  

“It’s unclear how it might impact voting,” he says. “But certainly the fact that there are majorities that support [the search] is not good news for the Republicans, who are trying to contest a remarkably tight race for control of Congress.”

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