By Chris Kahn
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Rank-and-file Republicans are more concerned about leaks to the media of conversations between Trump advisers and the Russian government than they are about the conversations themselves, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released Wednesday.
The poll, conducted between Feb. 16 and Feb. 20, shows how President Donald Trump has shifted opinions within the party of Ronald Reagan, where national security has been a top issue since the Cold War, said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
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"Republicans have now put a higher priority on their partisan identification and support for their current leader than principles they have had for many decades," Sabato said. "We live in such a polarized era."
Trump asked his national security adviser Michael Flynn to resign this month after news organizations reported he had discussed U.S. sanctions with a Russian diplomat while Barack Obama was still president.
Yet, while the media focused on the contacts with Russia, Trump blamed Flynn's departure on "criminal" leaks. He said Flynn was treated unfairly and that news reports of the conversations were "fake news."
"The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington?" Trump said in a tweet.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll attempted to measure which narrative was more credible for Americans. It asked people to pick one of two statements that was "the most concerning to you."
The first statement cited "reports that Trump advisors were in repeated contact with the Russian government during the 2016 presidential election." The second cited "U.S. intelligence agents leaking details of conversations between Trump advisors and the Russian government to reporters."
Overall, 43 percent of Americans said they were most concerned about reports of the contacts with Russia. Another 39 percent said they were concerned about the leaks and 19 percent said they didn't know.
However, people who identified with the Republican Party appeared to be much more troubled by the leaks. Some 57 percent said the leaks were the bigger concern, while 23 percent said it was the Russian contacts, and another 20 percent didn't know.
[Click here for a graphic on the poll: http://tmsnrt.rs/2lLW2OE]
[Click on this link for an interactive view of the data in the Reuters Polling Explorer: http://polling.reuters.com/#poll/TM1163Y17/dates/20170216-20170220/type/overall]
Gary Crosen, 65, a retiree from Millersville, Md., who took the poll, said he did not think it was a big deal that Flynn spoke with Russia.
"I consider Russia one of our friends," Crosen said. "And we don't need to publicize it the way the news media has.
"A lot goes on behind the scenes that we don’t see, and I don't think you need to bring it all out in the open."
The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online in English in all 50 states. It surveyed 1,562 American adults, including 578 who identified as Republicans. It has a credibility interval, a measure of accuracy, of 3 percentage points for the entire sample and 5 percentage points for Republicans only.
(Reporting by Chris Kahn; Editing by James Dalgleish)