Poll: Comey was deeply unpopular at time of firing

Poll: Comey was deeply unpopular at time of firing
© Greg Nash

The public was deeply unsatisfied with former FBI Director James Comey at the time of President Trump’s surprise decision to fire him.

According to the latest Harvard-Harris poll, provided exclusively to The Hill, only 40 percent of Americans approved of the job Comey did as FBI director, compared to 60 percent who said they disapproved.

Trump’s job approval rating is 10 points better at 45 positive and 55 negative in the same poll.

Comey had displeased members of both parties with his handling of the investigation into Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits Biden sends 'best wishes' to Clinton following hospitalization The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Jan. 6 panel flexes its muscle MORE’s use of a private email server as secretary of State.

In July, Comey angered Republicans when he announced the FBI would not bring charges against Clinton, because it had determined it did not have the evidence that she knowingly transferred classified material over her server.


Democrats were also unhappy with Comey’s criticism of Clinton during a live event announcing the news.

Clinton supporters were further angered in October, when, weeks before the election, Comey announced the FBI was again looking at Clinton’s emails. The investigation was renewed because a separate probe into former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) had found emails connected to her on a laptop the ex-congressman used to send messages to his wife, a Clinton aide.

Although the new probe ended up closing within a week with no damaging charges against Clinton, Democrats blamed the decision for her loss.

Comey’s favorability rating — or the measure of his popularity — is underwater in the new poll. He has a 31 percent positive rating and a 39 percent negative rating.

That’s actually an improvement from prior months, as Democrats have rallied to his defense since Trump fired him.

Last month, only 17 percent of Democrats had a positive view of Comey, compared to 36 percent negative. This month, Comey posted a positive 37-27 split among Democrats.

Overall, 70 percent said they disapprove of the way Comey handled the Clinton investigation.

Sixty-five percent said he should never have held a press conference where he explained that he would not recommend charges be brought against Clinton but laid out the ways he said she had mishandled classified information nonetheless.

Fifty-six percent said Comey should have quietly reopened the investigation into Clinton, rather than making the investigation public just days before the 2016 election.

Still, a majority of voters, 54 percent, and 63 percent of independents say they disapprove of Trump’s decision to fire Comey.

“The polling on Comey shows that President Trump is more in trouble for the way he fired Comey rather than for removing him,” said Harvard-Harris co-director Mark Penn. “Comey had and has negative ratings and was seen as doing a poor job at the FBI and on the Hillary investigation.”

Fifty-nine percent said they believe Trump asked Comey to end the investigation into the president’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

“Trump's biggest problem is the impression that he fired Comey to stop the Flynn investigation,” said Penn. “But Comey has testified no one stopped any investigations and added it was not unusual or wrong for his bosses to express their opinion of investigations.”

The Harvard-Harris online survey of 2,006 registered voters was conducted between May 17 and May 20. The partisan breakdown is 36 percent Democrat, 32 percent Republican, 29 percent independent and 3 percent other. The poll uses a methodology that doesn't produce a traditional margin of error.

The Harvard–Harris Poll is a collaboration of the Harvard Center for American Political Studies and The Harris Poll. The Hill will be working with Harvard-Harris throughout 2017. Full poll results will be posted online later this week.