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A Slight Majority of Americans Approve of the FBI’s Search of Mar-a-Lago

Political party played a role in whether Americans supported or opposed the raid

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The partisan gap is of course expected but what is interesting is the view of independents and that more Republicans do not display strong opposition—that is, more than half are not strongly opposed.”

James Druckman
IPR political scientist


Donald Trump's estate, Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Florida.

On August 8, 2022, the FBI raided former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, to search for classified documents, some of which were later found to contain highly sensitive foreign intelligence. But how did Americans respond to the search?

A new report by researchers at Northwestern, Harvard, Rutgers, and Northeastern universities, shows that a slight majority of Americans (51%) approve of the search of Mar-a-Lago, but there is a partisan gap between those who support and oppose it.

From August 11 to September 13, 2022, the researchers conducted a national survey of 26,616 Americans, and most of those surveyed, or 81%, were aware that the raid had taken place. A large majority of Democrats (84%) supported or strongly supported the search, compared to 13% of Republicans. Among Republicans, 64% opposed or strongly opposed the search, versus 3% of Democrats.

Independents were nearly twice as likely to support the search as they were to oppose it. Close to a third, or 32%, of independents strongly supported the search, while almost another third (28%) neither supported nor opposed it.

survey data

The partisan gap is of course expected but what is interesting is the view of independents and that more Republicans do not display strong opposition—that is, more than half are not strongly opposed,” said IPR political scientist James Druckman, who co-authored the report.

During the time the survey was conducted, the intensity of Republicans’ opposition to the search decreased. Between August 11–15, just days after the search, 54% of Republicans reported that they strongly opposed the search. A week after the raid, 46% of Republicans who were surveyed said the same. Support for the raid remained steady among Democrats throughout the time the survey was conducted.  

The researchers also collected open-ended responses from participants about how they felt about the search. Overall, 35% of respondents, or 9,334 people, responded with a comment, shedding light on the varying opinions of individuals from different political leanings.

The researchers found five themes among those who opposed the search:

  • General disdain of Trump
  • The belief that no one is above the law
  • Trust in the FBI
  • The belief that Trump would have nothing to worry about if he did nothing wrong
  • The argument that action from the FBI or Department of Justice was long overdue

These respondents said things such as “he has to abide by the law just like ordinary citizens,” and “it’s about time some real actions were taken against Trump’s criminal behavior.”

Among those opposed to the search, the researchers identified five different themes from participants:

  • The search was an abuse of power
  • It was “political” and a “witch hunt”
  • Democratic leaders should be investigated instead
  • The search was an invasion of Trump’s privacy
  • It was an attempt to distract from President Biden’s failures

Some common anti-search comments included “the search was just another in a long line of witch hunt hoaxes generated by the liberal left Democrats,” and “this is a distraction from what Biden is doing to destroy America.”

"The quotes reflect what have become the typical partisan refrains but it will be interesting to see how opinion evolves should the judiciary get more involved,” Druckman said. 

Read the report. Previous COVID States Project reports are available here.

James Druckman is the Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science and IPR associate director and fellow. 

Photo credit: iStock

Published: October 25, 2022.