This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Washington • Utahns are split on whether President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey because he was unfit for office or to protect the White House and Trump associates from the ongoing investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election, while nationally more than 60 percent of Americans identified the probe as the reason for the ouster.
A Utah Policy poll shows 45 percent of Utahns believe Trump fired Comey because he was not fit to lead the FBI, while 42 percent say it was because Trump wanted to halt the investigation into the Russia hacking. The difference was within the margin of error. Some 12 percent didn't have an opinion.
Trump had initially asserted that he fired Comey because the director had lost the respect of the bureau but later told NBC News that he was thinking of the Russia investigation when he made the decision. The White House at first echoed the Comey-had-lost-respect line, a response that later changed with Trump's comments.
"When I started in the field on this, I thought most [respondents] would just wish the Russia [controversy] would just go away, but when one report comes out right after another [showing] that it's deeper than what the media thought, so they don't know who to believe, especially with the media versus [White House] staff members," said longtime Utah pollster Dan Jones, whose firm conducted the Utah Policy poll.
"But they do believe in Trump," Jones added, "even though he can be very impetuous and careless with what he says."
Utah went for Trump in the 2016 election, though he failed to gain a majority of support with Democrat Hillary Clinton and independent Evan McMullin splitting most of the rest of the vote. Two polls in March showed Trump hovering near 50 percent of Utahns who back him.
That's drastically different than the picture nationwide where support has dropped to 38 percent, according to the latest tracking poll by Gallup.
Jones says that while Utahns may not like Trump's style, the Republican president is still somewhat popular in the deeply red state.
"A lot of those who voted for him like him to take the tough approach, regardless of public opinion," Jones said.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll out Wednesday showed 61 percent of Americans believe Trump fired Comey to protect himself, with 27 percent saying he did it for the good of the country. The responses fall largely along partisan lines.
About 71 percent of Republicans said Trump jettisoned Comey for the good of the country while 88 percent of Democrats believe he did it to protect himself. About 63 percent of independents sided with Democrats on the matter.
In Utah, 70 percent of Republicans said Comey was fired because he was unfit for office and 15 percent of GOP voters said it was because Trump wanted to end the Russia investigation. Nine in 10 Democrats, on the other hand, said Trump let Comey go because of the Russian probe. Independents who make up the second largest pool of voters in Utah pointed to the Russia probe by a 2-to-1 margin.
The Utah Policy poll was conducted May 31-June 5 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.98 percentage points.