Impeachment and the Polls
It's complicated, but not altogether a pretty picture for Democrats.
Just when it looked like public opinion was moving against the Democrats on impeachment, two new polls came out finding about half the country wants to see President Trump removed from office. An Economist/YouGov survey of registered voters had a 50-43 split in favor of booting Trump via the impeachment process, a CNN poll of the same 50-45. Nate Silver offered a couple of theories on Twitter. “The numbers have been steady for a while now and the small changes are just noise,” he speculated. “The numbers were moving very slightly against Democrats, but [Gordon] Sondland/last week reversed them.”
Still, this comes on the heels of Quinnipiac and Gallup finding pluralities against impeachment and NPR/PBS/Marist recording a tie. Democrats themselves don’t think their hearings have moved the needle on public opinion. The RealClearPolitics polling average shows a 2.5 point pro-impeachment advantage that looks a lot like the 2016 popular vote breakdown—enough for Democrats to keep going, not enough for Republicans to abandon Trump en masse. There is some evidence support for impeachment isn’t well distributed among the states that will decide the 2020 presidential election, making some swing district Democrats nervous.
Jim Pinkerton is right about the Democrats’ failure to provide a compelling television drama with an all bureaucrats’ cast. But I suspect there is even something more basic at work here: During the closed door phase of the impeachment proceedings, Democrats were able to make their case against Trump known through the media without the public seeing any actual Democrats. The public hearings have put Adam Schiff and the Democrats, as well as the partisanship voters rightly ascribe to Congress, in plain view.
Even if the electorate by and large agrees with the Democrats’ characterization of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, including some Republicans and independents opposed to impeachment or removal, they care about it a great deal less. That’s certainly what some polling for Vanity Fair found. By a 40-point margin (62 percent to 22 percent), independents told them impeachment was “more important to politicians than it is to me” and “more important to the media than it is to me” by nearly as a big a margin (61 percent to 23 percent). Two-thirds agreed it was “difficult to tell all the investigations in Washington apart.”
Trump isn’t out of the woods yet. He needs a certain number of voters who disapprove of his performance in office to nevertheless cast a ballot to reelect him. If impeachment conditions them to favor his removal from office by any means necessary, that task could become more difficult. Even a Senate trial contains some risk for the president, as the chamber’s Republicans are a wobbly sort and the Rudy Giuliani show could supply the drama the hearings so far lack.
But there’s a reason Nancy Pelosi hesitated to go down this road, especially as an election year fast approaches.