Voters Turned Off by Trump’s Claim That Obama Founded ISIS, Poll Shows

Trump's legacy is already secured for some voters. (Rob Kunzig/Morning Consult)

It turns out that accusing the U.S. president of founding a terror group responsible for killing thousands and ravaging the Middle East might not be good politics.

In the days following Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s erroneous assertion that President Obama founded the Islamic State, also known as ISIS — and that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was a co-founder — a Morning Consult survey of 2,001 registered voters found Trump’s reputation diminished, with more voters less likely to vote for him, even as his supporters doubled down.

While 27 percent of voters said they agreed with Trump’s comments, 56 percent said they disagreed with the Republican presidential contender, with 46 percent of respondents disagreeing “strongly.” The sentiment was nearly inverse among Trump’s supporters: 54 percent of Trump supporters said they agreed, while a quarter of them said they disagreed.

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Half of voters (50 percent) said Trump’s comments gave them a less favorable view of him, compared with just 19 percent who said they heard the remarks and had a more favorable view. To 37 percent of his supporters, the comments had no impact on their view of him, while 16 percent said it gave them a less favorable opinion and 39 percent said it gave them a more favorable opinion of the self-described billionaire.

While 43 percent of voters said it made them less likely to support Trump’s candidacy, about a third of voters (29 percent) said the comments would not have an impact on their vote. Four in 10 Republicans said the comments would have no impact on their vote, a sentiment shared by 43 percent of voters who support Trump.

Nearly four in 10 (39 percent) independents said Trump’s comments made them less likely to support him, compared with 21 percent of Republicans.

During a speech on Saturday, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah – the leader of Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based group classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government – embraced Trump’s statement: “This American candidate, who speaks in the name of the American Republican Party, has facts.”

Trump has since tried to soften the comments, including during a foreign policy speech on Monday, when he largely stuck to the script and read off of a teleprompter. But he spent much of last week defending the remarks, ignoring an opportunity handed to him by conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt to explain his comments as a metaphor for the vacuum some argue was formed when the U.S. pulled troops out of Iraq.

Trump responded, “No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS,” adding after further probing that,”the way he got out of Iraq was that – that was the founding of ISIS, okay?” A couple days later, he said his comments were meant to be sarcastic, but “not that sarcastic.”

Trump’s obstinance in walking back the remarks likely helped prolong the news cycle, and many registered voters have heard about the controversy. More than seven in 10 (72 percent) of them said they have heard some or a lot about Trump saying President Obama “founded” ISIS, along with his claim that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is the group’s co-founder.

That is more than the 68 percent of voters who had heard about Trump’s controversial comments about a judge overseeing a lawsuit against Trump University, the 58 percent of voters who had heard about his initial refusal to endorse House Speaker Paul Ryan for re-election, or the 47 percent who had heard about Trump reportedly saying, “If we have [nukes], why can’t we use them?”

The national survey of 2,001 registered voters was conducted Aug. 11-14 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points. See the toplines and crosstabs.

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