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2016: When Even Plagiarism Became Partisan

Poll shows Democrats bothered much more by it than Republicans

Melania Trump, wife of presidential candidate Donald Trump, appears on stage of the Quicken Loans Arena before speaking on first day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 18, 2016. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Melania Trump, wife of presidential candidate Donald Trump, appears on stage of the Quicken Loans Arena before speaking on first day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 18, 2016. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

There’s not much debate on whether it’s OK to plagiarize. (Hint: it’s not.) Students across the country learn that in school, and politicians have plenty of examples to look at that should scare them off.  

But in a political year where anything seems possible, even this basic principle is up for debate.  

To recap: Melania Trump, the wife of GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, in her address to the Republican National Convention last week used portions of the Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech . Campaign and party officials initially denied any wrongdoing before eventually issuing a rare apology from Melania’s speechwriter , who offered her resignation to Donald Trump, which he did not accept.  

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Quiz: How Well Do You Know Melania Trump?

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Now, in a Economist/YouGov poll taken last weekend, we learned that the widespread shock in Washington over the event didn’t necessarily resonate outside the beltway. An equal number of respondents — 37 percent — said Melania Trump’s plagiarism bothered them “a lot” as those who said it didn’t bother them “at all.”  

Perhaps more telling was the partisan split over whether the issue of plagiarism mattered. A full two-thirds of Republicans said it didn’t bother them at all, while only 7 percent of Democrats said the same thing. It was almost exactly opposite for those who said it mattered “a lot”: two-thirds of Democrats responded that way, while just 13 percent of Republicans did.  

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Melania Appropriates Michelle’s Words as GOP Borrows Dem-Style Emotion

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Of course, there are plenty of issues that the general public views through a partisan lens. In that same poll, nearly 70 percent of Republicans said they thought Donald Trump’s acceptance speech was “optimistic,” while 56 percent of Democrats said it was “pessimistic.” Donald Trump, for the record, told reporters at a news conference July 27 that his speech was optimistic, “because we’re going to fix the problems.”  

Twenty-two percent of Republicans said the GOP was divided more after the convention than before it, while nearly half of Democrats said the same thing.  

Partisanship, compared to some other variables, is often a great predictor for how respondents will answer questions in political polling. What makes the Melania Trump issue interesting is how widely condemned plagiarism is. Republican officials aren’t saying it’s OK, and the Trump campaign’s apology was rare for a campaign that often chooses to walk back its candidate’s more outlandish statements rather than apologize for them.  

The Economist/YouGov Poll is an online survey that included 1,300 Americans and had a margin of error of 8.4 percent for Republicans and 6.3 percent for Democrats. The Economist is the parent company of CQ Roll Call.  

Contact McMinn at seanmcminn@cqrollcall.com or on Twitter @shmcminn


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