Where Americans Stand On The Democrats’ Impeachment Charges

After months of investigation and public testimony, the impeachment train has officially left the station. On Tuesday, Democrats introduced two articles of impeachment against President Trump: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. And the House Judiciary Committee is now expected to vote on the charges against Trump later this week.

It’s clear from the charges that Democrats have adopted a relatively focused approach to impeachment. Rather than expanding their inquiry to fold in additional allegations from the Mueller report, like obstruction of justice, as some Democrats pushed for, both articles of impeachment specifically revolve around Trump’s conduct in the Ukraine scandal.

And even those charges were narrower than many had anticipated. Democrats, for instance, didn’t opt for a separate article of impeachment on bribery. Instead, they have decided to zoom in on the question of whether Trump abused his power by acting in a way that damaged national security, undermined the integrity of the next election, and violated his oath of office by pressuring Ukraine’s government to open an investigation into the Bidens. They’re also contending that his total refusal to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry constitutes an impeachable offense, arguing that he placed himself above the rule of law and violated the constitutional separation of powers by blocking key witnesses from testifying.

So where do Americans stand on the questions at the heart of Democrats’ charges? Overall, our tracker of impeachment polls shows that public opinion remains divided, with 48 percent of Americans in favor of impeaching Trump and 44 percent opposed.

But to assess how Americans might feel about the specific allegations that Democrats have included in the articles of impeachment, we looked at several months of polls that asked Americans whether they felt Trump had abused his power when it came to Ukraine, and whether they thought Trump should cooperate with the impeachment inquiry by turning over documents and allowing witnesses to testify.

On the first charge — abuse of power — there’s a fairly clear consensus. In an average of eight high-quality polls conducted between late September, when the Ukraine allegations against Trump first became public, and late November, we found that 54 percent of Americans believe Trump either abused his power or acted in his own self-interest, while 39 percent said he had not. That’s basically in line with the share of Americans who believe Trump committed an impeachable offense, according to our own polling with Ipsos.

Trump’s refusal to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry also appears to be unpopular, according to several polls that have come out in the months since the impeachment process began. For instance, in a Suffolk poll conducted in late October, 66 percent of Americans agreed that the White House has an obligation to comply with subpoenas from the House committees demanding testimony and documents. A Quinnipiac poll released about a month later found that 76 percent of the public thought Trump should comply fully with the impeachment inquiry. But, of course, it’s unclear how many Americans actually consider the administration’s lack of cooperation an impeachable offense. Two Economist/YouGov polls conducted in late November and early December suggested that there may be some disagreement in the extent to which Trump was perceived to be obstructing Congress’s inquiry — just 48 percent and 49 percent, respectively, disapproved of the Trump administration’s decision not to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry. This was still more than the 33 percent and 35 percent who approved, but it’s still not an overwhelming majority. And a sizeable percentage of respondents were undecided in both surveys.

There’s another reason why Democrats might have wanted to focus narrowly on obstruction of Congress, rather than including evidence from the Mueller report. It was the Ukraine scandal — not the findings from the Mueller report — that changed the conversation on impeachment. Americans weren’t supportive of impeaching Trump after the release of the Mueller report, and, in fact, they remained largely divided on one of the report’s core questions: Did Trump’s behavior in the Russia investigation amount to obstruction of justice? In an average of polls conducted between late April, when the Mueller report was released, and late July, when Mueller testified before Congress, we found that just under half (49 percent) of Americans agreed that Trump’s behavior in response to the Mueller investigation amounted to obstruction of justice, while 40 percent thought it didn’t, and 11 percent were unsure.

While that’s not necessarily a sign that including an obstruction of justice charge would have been a big political risk, it’s also not a sign of overwhelming support for obstruction of justice either. And because a broader obstruction of justice article was reportedly unpopular with moderates, the decision to push forward with a narrower case on obstruction of Congress may have also been designed to ensure a clean party-line vote on both articles, with as few moderate Democrat defections as possible. These narrow articles seem likely to preserve party unity as the impeachment process speeds ahead — even if they don’t increase the likelihood that Republicans will cross the aisle to vote for them.

Mary Radcliffe contributed research

What We Learned From The First House Vote On Impeachment

Today’s House vote to formalize the impeachment process, spelling out its rules and procedures, isn’t the impeachment vote. That vote — on whether to make Donald Trump only the third-ever president2 to be impeached — will likely come later, after the House holds public hearings. But Thursday’s vote still told us a lot about how the House impeachment is likely to play out.

Simply put, it’s a good bet that not much will change no matter what happens in the hearings. That’s both because Americans’ views on the president are very partisan (basically Republicans almost universally support him but a majority of country does not), and because many of the most damning details about President Trump and his administration’s dealings with Ukraine have probably already come out in the last month. The resolution on Thursday passed 232-196, with two Democrats and no Republicans breaking ranks, and it’s just hard to imagine many members switching sides.

So House Democrats didn’t just ramp up the impeachment process on Thursday. They put themselves on a course that almost certainly ends with a vote impeaching the president and imploring the Senate to remove him from office. With the major implications of this first step in mind, here’s what we learned from today’s vote:

Republicans are already unified behind Trump — unlike in past impeachment processes

In 1974, basically the entire House voted in favor of starting the impeachment process against President Richard Nixon. Literally. It was a 410-4 vote. The vote to start an inquiry against President Bill Clinton in 1998 wasn’t quite as bipartisan, but Clinton still saw 31 Democrats break with him and support an impeachment investigation.3

But none of the 194 House Republicans who voted on Thursday’s resolution to formalize the impeachment investigation of Trump cast a “yes” vote. This was not at all surprising. There’s that entrenched partisanship I mentioned earlier, and Trump’s popularity with the GOP base (and the fear that he’ll support a primary challenger against Republicans who break with him, as he’s done in the past). But additionally, many more moderate Republicans and those in closely contested districts lost reelection last year, so there aren’t a lot of Republicans left in the House who are ideologically opposed to the president or might feel electoral pressure to break with him. Only three remain in districts Hillary Clinton won in 2016: Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Will Hurd of Texas and John Katko of New York. All three voted against the inquiry:

I thought that perhaps one of the 19 House Republicans who are retiring after 2020 might support the impeachment investigation, since they don’t have to worry about a primary challenge or reelection. But those members still might want to run for another office as Republicans or join GOP-connected lobbying shops or conservative organizations, so they could still have reasons to maintain a reputation as Trump loyalists. There also just weren’t a lot of political incentives for House Republicans to vote “yes.” (And electoral considerations aside, surely some of the 197 House Republicans either don’t think Trump did anything wrong or don’t think it’s worthy of impeachment.) The fact that Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, who left the GOP in July to become an independent, voted for the resolution illustrates, I think, that no one who aspires to remain in GOP politics could vote in favor of it.

For those who want to see Trump leave office, this unified Republican support of the president is another sign that he probably isn’t going anywhere — at least until the 2020 elections. It’s doubtful that Trump’s removal from office (supported by nearly half the country) will become more broadly popular as long as Republican elected officials are opposed to it and keep telling GOP-leaning voters that the president is being unfairly investigated. And a unified Republican vote against even having an investigation is likely to lead to a unified vote against impeachment itself. (Although I don’t want to rule out completely a handful of members voting for impeachment if some even worse evidence against Trump comes out.) With that kind of ironclad support for the president, how could even one Republican senator vote for his removal, never mind the 20 that would be required for the motion to pass?

Democrats are ready to spend 2020 as the pro-impeachment party, even in pro-Trump areas

Of the 31 Democrats who represent House districts that Trump won in 2016, all but two — Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey — voted in favor of the impeachment investigation. So did all the other House Democrats who participated in the vote. This wasn’t surprising either — I don’t think House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would have scheduled this vote unless most swing district members were on board. She is deeply concerned about boosting their reelection prospects.

I would expect nearly all these members to follow through and vote in favor of impeachment itself; just as with Republicans, the electoral incentives for Democrats are pretty clear-cut. First, support for impeachment is above 80 percent among Democrats. Thus, even in a Trump-leaning district, it’s very likely that the majority of Democrats there favor impeachment. So a Democratic House member voting against impeachment would risk irritating the core activists, donors, volunteers and liberal voters that she needs to win reelection. Secondly, no matter how strong an argument she makes, a member who votes for an impeachment investigation but against impeaching Trump runs the risks of annoying both Democrats and Republicans in her district, satisfying no one.

Leaning into impeachment is a risk for House Democrats. There’s a scenario — unlikely but possible — in which the Democratic presidential nominee loses key states in the Midwest and is defeated while the party keeps control of the House by winning suburban districts in blue states like California. This scenario, pre-impeachment, could have involved some House Democrats distancing themselves from the party’s nominee and casting themselves as able to work with Trump. But you probably can’t run on being able to work with Trump after you’ve voted to impeach him.

In 2018, the House Democrats campaigned against Republicans’ unpopular Obamacare repeal bill more than against Trump himself. But impeachment puts Trump, the person, even more at the forefront of the 2020 campaign — even for House Democrats not technically running against him.


All in all, I think Thursday’s vote is a pretty good representation of what we can expect from the House impeachment process: Party unity on both sides resulting in Trump’s impeachment. But just because the outcome seems clear doesn’t mean the process can’t be surprising. Remember the hearings on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court ? Remember a group of House Republicans last week forcing themselves into a closed-door hearing being held by the House Intelligence Committee, bringing their cell phones into an area where phones are banned for security reasons? I think we are going to see even more over-the-top shenanigans in the next few months, particularly from House Republicans, who know they don’t have the votes to win this political fight.

Now that everyone knows that the impeachment process in the House is likely to end with a party-line vote that the Democrats win, the hearings aren’t really designed to affect the votes of members. They are really a performance for the press and the public. So I would not expect a sober, somber process.

Abolishing The Electoral College Used To Be A Bipartisan Position. Not Anymore.

Twice in the past five presidential elections, a Republican has won the presidency despite losing the popular vote. Now Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii has introduced a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College and use the national popular vote to decide who becomes president. His proposal is among the latest efforts by Democrats and those on the left to push for structural changes to the American political system.

But Schatz’s amendment is sure to meet defeat in the Republican-controlled Senate. Today, attitudes toward the Electoral College are polarized by party, with Democrats far more likely to support a change and Republicans much more likely to defend the current system — but it wasn’t always like that.

While the controversial 2000 election was still being decided, Gallup found that 61 percent of Americans — including 73 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of Republicans5 — preferred amending the Constitution to elect the popular vote winner. Only 35 percent of respondents preferred the current system. The partisan gap widened even further after the 2016 election: A few weeks after President Trump won the presidency while losing the popular vote, Gallup found that 49 percent of Americans preferred changing to a popular vote system, compared to 47 percent who wanted to keep the Electoral College, with 81 percent of Democrats supporting a change compared to just 19 percent of Republicans.6 Even given some space after that heated election, there remains a major partisan gap in opinion over how to elect a president — Pew Research found in March 2018 that 75 percent of Democrats supported moving to a popular-vote system versus only 32 percent of Republicans.

But 50 years ago, moving on from the Electoral College had bipartisan support. In May 1968, 66 percent of American approved of the idea of amending the constitution to replace the Electoral College with a popular vote system, according to Gallup. And there was no partisan divide: 66 percent of Republicans and 64 percent of Democrats approved. Six months later, Republican Richard Nixon defeated Democrat Hubert Humphrey while only winning the popular vote by less than 1 percentage point, and a post-election Gallup survey found 80 percent of Americans approved of changing the electoral system. The bipartisan support among voters and the fact that the 1968 election nearly produced a split between the popular vote and the Electoral College7 explain why there was bipartisan support in Congress in 1969 for a constitutional amendment to elect presidents based on the popular vote. The House passed it 339 to 70, with more than 80 percent of each party’s voting members lending their support. But small-state senators from both parties filibustered the amendment and it never got an up-or-down vote in the upper chamber.

As long as one side feels disadvantaged by the Electoral College, it will be far more likely to push for a popular-vote system. Right now, that’s the Democrats. Reforming how the country elects presidents falls into the broad effort on the left to reform aspects of our electoral system, including voting access and how campaign finance works. But some who want reform believe abolishing the Electoral College should be a secondary goal. “There’s a bunch of stuff to do without amending the constitution that would have the end result of making institutions and elections more fair,” said David Faris, a political scientist at Roosevelt University, who recently argued in his book “It’s Time To Fight Dirty” that Democrats should be challenging the structural and legal boundaries of the American political system to better gain and hold power. Nonetheless, Faris sees discussion over the electoral system as a good thing in that it could soften up public opinion and make people more willing to consider alternatives to the status quo.

But we may not see a true shift in public opinion unless a Republican loses in the Electoral College while winning the popular vote. As FiveThirtyEight has argued in the past, the system is not inherently biased against either party, with one side’s seeming advantage lasting for just an election or two before it flips to the other party. But as the 1969-1970 example shows, it seems likely that only serious bipartisan support for abolishing the Electoral College system could ever change how we elect a president. Although states may figure out a way around the Electoral College with the National Popular Vote interstate compact, it would not seem as permanent as a constitutional amendment, given that only one amendment has ever been repealed. And as Faris argues, using the interstate compact method might precipitate a crisis because an outcome might be seen as illegitimate and be subject to legal challenges if it delivers a result that contravenes what the Electoral College would otherwise do.

Schatz’s proposal is unlikely to pass the Senate, but it may be a symbolic effort to influence the conversation about what we want our electoral system to look like. Nonetheless, without broader agreement, a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College will pass when pigs fly.


From ABC News:
Sen. Elizabeth Warren wants to get rid of the Electoral College


Barr’s Summary Of The Mueller Report Seems Good For Trump

In a letter to Congress summarizing the results of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Attorney General William Barr wrote that the special counsel found that the Trump campaign did not coordinate with Russia. On the question of obstruction of justice, though, Mueller didn’t come to a conclusion, stating that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” The ball is now in Congress’s court, so you can expect a political fight in the coming days and weeks to make the full contents of the report public.

In January, I outlined five scenarios for how the Mueller investigation could end. Barr’s summary decisively avoids the worst-case outcome for Trump — being implicated in some form of coordination with Russia during the 2016 election. As the Mueller investigation unfolded, the special counsel’s team described the myriad ways that the Russian government worked to boost the Trump campaign and undermine Hillary Clinton’s candidacy — we just didn’t know whether the Trump campaign was linked to those efforts. So in that sense, Barr’s summary is very good for the president, because Barr noted that despite multiple overtures from Russia to assist with the 2016 Trump campaign, no campaign official “conspired or coordinated” with the Russian government. The conclusiveness of Barr’s language may also put a damper on House Democrats’ efforts to continue to investigate potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Barr’s summary does, however, fall fairly squarely into the second scenario I outlined, which was related to whether Trump obstructed justice by trying to illegally or inappropriately influence investigations of Russia’s conduct in 2016. In that scenario, I noted that while the evidence might not be sufficient to charge Trump with obstruction of justice — which is a high bar, legally — the report could have significant political fallout, fueling Democrats’ demands to make the full report public and spurring further investigations of the president.

What happens next will mainly hinge on whether the full report is made public. Democrats in Congress have been calling for the report to be released for the past few weeks (and they’ve also demanded access to Mueller’s investigative files), but the decision is in Barr’s hands for now. House Democrats can subpoena the report, but that will likely lead to a potentially lengthy court battle over whether parts of the report are confidential or covered by executive privilege. Democrats are already questioning the decision-making process that led Barr to conclude that Mueller’s report did not support obstruction of justice charges. House Judiciary chairman Jerrold Nadler tweeted that he will call Barr to testify before Congress.

Nadler’s statement suggests Democrats aren’t finished asking questions about Trump’s conduct — particularly as it relates to potential obstruction of justice. While Mueller apparently chose not to say whether or not the president obstructed justice, he has given Democrats important ammunition to demand the full report. That’s because although the report didn’t ultimately make a determination about whether Trump illegally obstructed justice — that was left up to Barr, who concluded that Trump’s behavior did not warrant charges — it does contain “evidence on both sides of the question.” This evidence could be quite damaging for the president politically if it’s made public, particularly since obstruction of justice is also an impeachable offense.

That said, Democrats shouldn’t necessarily expect the full report to change the minds of the president’s supporters. Over the course of Mueller’s investigation, the partisan divide in public opinion has solidified, with Republicans in particular growing more distrustful of the special counsel.

Now the Democrats have an even higher bar to clear when trying to counteract Trump’s claims that they’re conducting “ridiculous partisan investigations.” So while Barr’s summary leaves the door open for further investigations of Trump by House Democrats and could lead to the full report becoming public, the lack of a decisive legal conclusion from Mueller may also make it very difficult to change Americans’ minds about the president, regardless of what’s in the report.

The Politics Of The Mueller Report

One big question, now that special counsel Robert Mueller has filed his report, is what the process of revealing Mueller’s findings will mean politically, which is a separate question from what additional legal issues might emerge. It may take a true bombshell — like, perhaps, a conclusion that the president did obstruct justice, or a full and explicit exoneration of the president from Mueller — to change Democrats’ and Republicans’ minds about how favorably they view Mueller and how trustworthy they find him.

That’s because views of the special counsel have become increasingly polarized since Mueller was appointed in May 2017.

Republicans in particular have grown more suspicious of Mueller — perhaps thanks to Trump’s frequent denunciations of the special counsel investigation as a politically motivatedwitch hunt.” Today, Republicans are much more inclined to believe that Mueller’s investigation is unfair than they were when he was appointed.

This is not to say that these numbers can’t change, especially if some important new information emerges in the coming weeks or months. In late 2018, after Mueller’s team indicted a number of people and Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress as part of Mueller’s investigation, the percentage of Republicans who believed the probe was fair increased a bit. And if the results of Mueller’s probe are sufficiently damning, impeachment isn’t off the table. According to a poll conducted last month, 61 percent of Americans support impeachment if Mueller concludes that Trump authorized collusion with Russia, and 65 percent support impeachment if Mueller concludes that Trump obstructed justice.

But in terms of large-scale political ramifications like impeachment, it will likely take something big and dramatic to truly move the needle. As it stands now, Mueller’s investigation hasn’t been a political game-changer — either by providing fodder to House Democrats to begin considering impeachment proceedings against the president, or by officially clearing Trump’s name. This is important because Mueller, although he didn’t have unified support from Republicans and Democrats, has still maintained some credibility as an independent investigator — he’s still largely trusted, for example, by independents. So while the political showdown over the Mueller report is already beginning, the extent of the fallout is much more uncertain.

For more on the legal implications of the report, see Mueller Just Filed His Report. What Happens Next?

The Politics Surrounding Mueller Have Changed A Lot Since He Started

One big question, now that special counsel Robert Mueller has filed his report, is what the process of revealing Mueller’s findings will mean politically, which is a separate question from what additional legal issues might emerge. It may take a true bombshell — like, perhaps, a conclusion that the president did obstruct justice, or a full and explicit exoneration of the president from Mueller — to change Democrats’ and Republicans’ minds about how favorably they view Mueller and how trustworthy they find him.

That’s because views of the special counsel have become increasingly polarized since Mueller was appointed in May 2017.

Republicans in particular have grown more suspicious of Mueller — perhaps thanks to Trump’s frequent denunciations of the special counsel investigation as a politically motivatedwitch hunt.” Today, Republicans are much more inclined to believe that Mueller’s investigation is unfair than they were when he was appointed.

This is not to say that these numbers can’t change, especially if some important new information emerges in the coming weeks or months. In late 2018, after Mueller’s team indicted a number of people and Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress as part of Mueller’s investigation, the percentage of Republicans who believed the probe was fair increased a bit. And if the results of Mueller’s probe are sufficiently damning, impeachment isn’t off the table. According to a poll conducted last month, 61 percent of Americans support impeachment if Mueller concludes that Trump authorized collusion with Russia, and 65 percent support impeachment if Mueller concludes that Trump obstructed justice.

But in terms of large-scale political ramifications like impeachment, it will likely take something big and dramatic to truly move the needle. As it stands now, Mueller’s investigation hasn’t been a political game-changer — either by providing fodder to House Democrats to begin considering impeachment proceedings against the president, or by officially clearing Trump’s name. This is important because Mueller, although he didn’t have unified support from Republicans and Democrats, has still maintained some credibility as an independent investigator — he’s still largely trusted, for example, by independents. So while the political showdown over the Mueller report is already beginning, the extent of the fallout is much more uncertain.

For more on the legal implications of the report, see Mueller Just Filed His Report. What Happens Next?

Trump Keeps Doubling Down On The Same Failed Strategy

President Trump will declare a national emergency and seek money to build a border wall, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday, moments before the U.S. Senate passed a compromise spending bill that didn’t include wall funding.

If Trump follows through on the emergency declaration, he’ll be doing something that large majorities of Americans oppose — and he’ll be doing it at right as his job approval ratings had begun to rebound following the partial government shutdown in December and January.

Indeed, the act of declaring a national emergency to build a wall is even more unpopular than the wall itself — and the wall isn’t popular. Polls as tracked by PollingReport.com show an average of 32 percent of Americans in favor of the declaration and 65 percent opposed. Even in an era where many of Trump’s top priorities poll only in the low-to-mid-40s, that’s an especially large split, with roughly twice as many voters opposed as in favor.

Voters strongly oppose a national emergency over the wall

Polls conducted during and since the partial government shutdown on whether Trump should declare a national emergency to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border

Pollster Dates Approve/ Support/ Should Disapprove/ Oppose/ Should not
CNN/SSRS Jan. 30-Feb. 2 31% 66%
Quinnipiac University Jan. 25-28 31 66
Monmouth University Jan. 25-27 34 64
Quinnipiac University Jan. 9-13 32 65
ABC News/Washington Post Jan. 8-11 31 66
Average 32 65

Source: POLLINGREPORT.COM

The emergency plan could potentially become somewhat more popular if Trump tries to rally his base behind it, but it’s an issue that causes a fair amount of divisiveness even among Republican lawmakers.

And the strategy suggests that Trump didn’t learn any lessons from the shutdown. His approval rating, which was 42.2 percent on the day the shutdown began, bottomed out at 39.3 just as the shutdown was ending. It has since mostly recovered to 41.5 percent, however. Despite Trump’s having capitulated to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in agreeing to reopen the government for three weeks, the sky didn’t fall and the base stuck with Trump.

The mechanics of this are fairly straightforward. Trump indeed has a loyal1 base. That base is so loyal, however, that very little about what Trump does seems to affect their views or him. Here is Trump’s approval rating by party according to Gallup since the midterm elections, for example. Among Republicans, Trump’s approval rating was steady at roughly 88 percent before, during and after the shutdown. Among Democrats, it was also largely unchanged.2 Among independents, however, his approval rating plunged from about 39 percent just before the shutdown to 31 and 32 percent in two polls conducted in the midst of it, before recovering to 38 percent once the shutdown was over.

Trump’s base remained loyal during the shutdown

Trump’s job approval rating, by party, before and after the government shutdown

Trump’s Approval Rating Among
Dates Republicans Independents Democrats
Feb. 1-10 89% 38% 5%
Jan. 21-27 88 32 5
Jan. 2-10, 2019 88 31 6
Dec. 17-22 89 39 8
Dec. 10-16 86 37 7
Dec. 3-9 89 38 7
Nov. 26-Dec. 2 89 39 6
Nov. 19-25 86 34 9
Nov. 12-18, 2018 90 37 6

Polls in the shaded rows were conducted mostly or entirely during the government shutdown.

Source: Gallup

Again, nothing here is rocket science. It’s Electoral Politics 101. Trump does unpopular stuff, and he becomes more unpopular. The erosion mostly comes from independents because Republicans are highly loyal to him and Democrats are already almost uniformly opposed.

But Trump will need those independents to win re-election. He needed them to become president in the first place. Trump won independents by 4 points, 46 percent to 42 percent for Hillary Clinton, in 2016. Had they gone for Clinton by 4 points instead, she would have won the national popular vote by 4 or 5 points, and won Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida and possibly Arizona.

Or things could get a lot worse than that for Trump, and he could lose independents by a wider margin. In the 2018 midterms, Republicans lost independents by 12 percentage points, contributing to a 40-seat loss in the House. The key facet about the midterms is that turnout was very high, including among the Republican base. But it was also high among the Democratic base, and Republicans badly lost independents. The base alone isn’t enough to win national elections, especially for Republicans, since fewer voters identify as Republicans than as Democrats.

There’s just not a lot more to say about this. If Trump didn’t learn he needs to reach beyond his base from either the midterms or from the shutdown, he probably won’t figure it out in time for 2020.

Why Trump Blinked

President Trump blinked. The 35-day partial government shutdown appears to be ending.

From the start of the shutdown, congressional Democrats said they would not negotiate regarding Trump’s proposal for a border wall until the government reopened. Trump said he would not agree to legislation opening the government unless it included money for the border wall. That standoff lasted until Friday. Congress is expected to pass a bill that funds the government through Feb. 15 and does not include wall money, and Trump said that he would sign it in a Rose Garden address.

Why did Trump back down? Well, for all of the reasons we’ve been talking about for weeks. Polls consistently showed that the public was largely blaming the president, more than congressional Democrats, for the shutdown. That “blame Trump” view had recently gained more traction:

Moreover, Trump’s approval ratings were declining amid the impasse:

The public response had clear effects in Congress. Congressional Republicans had been unified behind the president in the early stages of the shutdown, but cracks started to emerge as it dragged on. In public, this was demonstrated on Thursday by six Senate Republicans voting for legislation put forward by Senate Democrats that would fund the government without money for the wall. And, in private, disagreement with the president’s strategy extended beyond those six. A meeting between Senate Republicans and Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday reportedly turned into a venting session, with some senators scolding Pence for the White House’s strategy. Among the critics was Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has the power to bring forward legislation, whether Trump likes it or not.

We don’t know much about the private discussions between McConnell and the White House, but it’s possible that Trump folded in part because McConnell suggested Senate Republicans would likely move forward soon with legislation funding the government without paying for the wall — with or without the president’s support. Although Trump, in a Rose Garden speech on Friday, acted as if it were his decision to end the shutdown, the decision to fold may not truly have been Trump’s to make, and the speech may have been McConnell allowing the president to save face and concede before the Republicans in the Senate fully broke with him.

To be clear, it’s not certain that Trump has lost the broader fight over the wall. It’s hard to see congressional Democrats offering much funding for it, but maybe they will agree to some kind of compromise that includes a few billion dollars. (I wouldn’t bet on this, as liberal Democratic opposition to the wall seems to be hardening.) Or, as he suggested on Friday, Trump could declare a national emergency and reallocate funds from other parts of the government to finance a wall. Such a move will almost certainly draw legal challenges. But Trump might win in the courts, as he (eventually) did on his executive order banning travel from certain countries into the United States.

For now, however, we’re back to where we were when the shutdown began. Trump and Congress have three weeks to figure out a solution. In public, at least, all sides are staking out the same positions they held when the shutdown started. Trump will likely need a different strategy going forward. The one he employed over the last month — shutting down the government (which is unpopular) to get the wall (which is unpopular) — could not keep his party united forever.

In short, it was another example that Trump is not immune to broader political dynamics, despite his surprising win in 2016. The health care policy legislation he was pushing for much of 2017 was deeply unpopularand it failed. He had high disapproval ratings going into the 2018 midterms — and his party lost a ton of House seats. And now, he pushed a shutdown strategy that seemed doomed to fail — and it did.

What Happens When Dozens Of Wave-Year Freshmen Join The House?

It might be hard to tell at the moment, but there are freshmen Democrats in the House other than New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. While Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive women have become the face of the new class in Congress, a total of 64 newly elected Democrats joined Congress this month, each of them with their own platform and political leanings. Yet all of them won their seats in the same wave election that swung at least 40 House seats to the Democrats1 — an election that has media wags wondering if the new Democratic representatives will cause headaches for the old guard.

The data suggests … probably not.

American politics have been inundated by big waves before, and a close look at how those freshmen classes voted may shed light on how today’s wave might affect the government. In 1994, for example, under the banner of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America,” the GOP ushered in a so-called Republican Revolution, swinging Congress 54 seats to the right. In 2010, Republicans did it again, this time powered by the tea party; the GOP picked up 63 seats. But American politics are turbulent. In 2006 and 2008, it was the Democrats’ turn to surf — they picked up 31 and 21 seats those years. While there is no widely accepted definition of a “wave” year, there seems to be some consensus that these four elections were waves, so that’s where I’m going to focus my analysis.

After they were elected, all of these wave-riding freshman representatives actually had to go to work and cast votes. Votes are data, and data, in this case, turns into ideology scores. Specifically, we can use Nokken-Poole ideology scores to see whether wave-year freshmen voted demonstrably differently from their more veteran peers. (This method boils down actual congressional votes into a single dimension, meaning that bigger negative numbers represent more liberal positions and bigger positive numbers represent more conservative positions.)

With a possible exception of Republicans elected in 2010, when the tea party was big, first-year representatives entering Congress in a wave year don’t look all that different from any of the other representatives — they tend to be distributed across the ideology score spectrum in about the same way as their longer-serving peers. That could be good news for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she tries to keep her caucus in line.

But it’s not just the wave-riding freshmen who aren’t that different from the veterans. Freshmen of all classes tend to vote similarly to — or, if anything, slightly to the right of — their party elders. These are the ideological distributions of all freshmen and all non-freshmen from 1994 through 2018.

But what became of these freshmen who rode into Congress on electoral waves? Did those who were re-elected (and, in some cases, re-elected and re-elected and re-elected …) begin to alter their legislative behavior after they’d served for a while? Where could Ocasio-Cortez and her peers end up, ideologically speaking, in a decade’s time, if they follow roughly the same path as those who came before them?

There is some weak evidence that those congresspeople who rode in on recent waves — be they Democrats or Republicans — shifted to the left over time. (For the universe of all congresspeople, there is some evidence that spending more time in Congress means a person takes, on average, a slightly more extreme ideological position.) The Republicans of the class of 1994, for example, became on average more moderate than their fellow congressmen, while the Democrats of the classes of 2006 and 2008 became on average more liberal. Practically speaking, however, these effects appear small, especially when each wave-year class is viewed as an aggregate. The single red and blue lines on the chart below represent the careers of each newly elected member of that year’s wave party, while the thick black lines show a smoothed trend for each class. The members of the wave classes thin out over time and, in some cases, shift their ideologies.

There are a couple of notable outliers clearly visible above. In 1999, Rep. Michael Forbes, who had been a freshman in the Republican Revolution class, announced he was becoming a Democrat. And in 2009, Democratic Rep. Parker Griffith became a Republican while still a freshman — he’d been elected in a Democratic wave just over a year before.

There’s an important caveat to all this: the Nokken-Poole scores are built only on how congresspeople vote. The scores don’t tell us anything about what the congresspeople are voting on, or the ripple effects that freshmen may have on senior members by, for example, threatening to vote as a bloc, introducing legislation the House might not otherwise have considered, or using their public appearances to rile up segments of senior members’ electorates who might not normally contact their representatives. For instance, some pundits have argued that the tea party changed “the very DNA of the GOP.” (Congress has tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act many times since 2010, for example, which was one of the main planks of the tea party movement.) Others have argued that Gingrich’s Republican Revolution is linked to “the upheaval now taking place around the globe.” Only time will tell what effects the recent and ongoing blue wave might have. Already, we can see how young left is trying to expand which ideas Democrats are willing to entertain — including, perhaps, remaking the country’s very economic system.

We don’t yet have ideological measures for the freshmen swept into the House on 2018’s wave, of course — they haven’t participated in enough votes in D.C. But if today’s freshmen stick around long enough to become senior statesmen, there are hints here that they may shift the House even further to the left. Cowabunga, dude.



Will Trump’s Compromise Help End The Shutdown? And Was It Even A Compromise?

Welcome to a special weekend-edition of FiveThirtyEight’s weekly politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.


micah (Micah Cohen, managing editor): Hey, everyone! We’ve convened here on a weekend(!) to talk about President Trump’s address to the nation on Saturday. Trump called the country together to make an offer to Democrats to try to end the partial government shutdown, now more than 28 days old.

Here’s Trump’s offer, summarized by Bloomberg News reporter Sahil Kapur:

So, the question in front of us: Is this offer likely to end the shutdown? And, more generally, is this a smart move politically by Trump, who’s seen his job approval rating erode as the shutdown has dragged on?

Let’s briefly start with that first question. What do you make of Trump’s offer? Will it bring about the end of the shutdown?

sarahf (Sarah Frostenson, politics editor): No.

micah: lol.

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): Nyet.

perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): It’s not at all likely to end the shutdown. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi bashed the proposal before the speech started (once reports came out with Trump’s offer). He didn’t consult Democrats before the proposal was released. It’s not clear he was even really trying to get Democrats to sign onto this.

sarahf: Yeah, what I don’t understand about the proposal is that it was negotiated without any Democratic input. It was just Vice President Mike Pence, Senior Adviser Jared Kushner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talking with fellow Republicans.

natesilver: I mean, there are some permutations where this is the beginning of the end of the shutdown, I suppose.

Those have to involve some combination of (i) Trump offering a better deal than what he’s offering right now, and (ii) public opinion shifting to put more pressure on Democrats.

micah: So is the best way to look at this address as basically a political ploy — an attempt to change the politics of the shutdown? (I don’t mean “ploy” in a negative sense.)

perry: I think that’s the only way to look at this.

natesilver: The real audience for the speech is likely the media. Because we’re the only people sick enough to actually waste our Saturdays watching this thing.

slackbot: I’m sorry you aren’t feeling well. There is Advil, Aleve and Tylenol in the cabinet in front of Nate’s office/Vanessa’s desk.

micah: lol

natesilver: lol, slackbot

Anyway, in theory, “we’re willing to compromise and Democrats” aren’t is a perfectly decent message. It’s BS in various ways (mostly because the compromise Trump is offering isn’t too good). But it’s a fairly conventional message — to sell a not-very-great compromise as being a good deal.

sarahf: Right now, Americans overwhelmingly continue to blame Trump and congressional Republicans for the shutdown. Saturday’s speech seemed like an attempt on his part to try and shift some of that narrative by outlining a proposal that definitely seemed like a compromise.

perry: And I think it has as few potential good effects for Trump. First, it may help keep Republicans on Capitol Hill aligned with him. They were getting leery of his wall-only strategy. This makes it easier for the party to unify around him.

Second, Trump’s proposal allows McConnell to hold a vote and suggest he and his chamber are trying to resolve the shutdown too, just like the House is doing.

Finally, I assume, when pollsters ask people about this proposal, it will be more popular than the wall itself. My guess is it will be near 50 percent support and perhaps higher. Most people I assume aren’t totally against any money for the wall and feel like Dreamers must have a path to citizenship or else.

sarahf: And I don’t know if it’s a good look for Democratic leaders like Pelosi to immediately come out the gate saying, “nope this doesn’t work.” Then again, they weren’t consulted in the making of the deal it sounds like, so maybe she’d be better off highlighting that.

natesilver: I did think it was weird that Trump opened the address with a sort of uncharacteristically gentle paean to the virtues of legal immigration, but then careened to talking about drugs and gangs and violence and some of the other stuff that doesn’t usually pass a fact check. If you actually wanted to portray an image of bipartisanship, you could skip most of that stuff. Or you could talk about how there were extremists on both sides — call out Republicans for X and Y reason.

micah: Well …

I do wonder if this could change the politics of the shutdown in more than one way, as Perry was getting at.

It could make Democrats look like the intransigent side, as you were all saying.

But, it could also shift the narrative towards more “border crisis” and less “wall.” And that’s better political ground for Trump. Polls show more people believe there is a crisis at the border than support a wall.

sarahf: Right, last week we looked at different pollsters who asked Americans what they thought of the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border. I was surprised by the number of Americans who thought it was a serious problem or a crisis. Fifty-four percent of respondents in a Quinnipiac poll said they believed there was a security crisis along the border with Mexico. And in a CBS News/YouGov poll, 55 percent said the situation was “a problem, but not a crisis.”

natesilver: It could shift things — although, again, it’s worth mentioning that the deal Trump offered isn’t really much of a deal at all.

In fact, it offers a bit less than what they floated last night.

The DACA part itself is a compromise, but to get that compromise, Democrats have to give up something (wall funding) that they’re firmly opposed to.

Although, it probably is fair to say that the wall is also a compromise of sorts. As Trump actually emphasized. It’s not all that much wall. It’s certainly not a big concrete wall stretching the length of the border.

sarahf: I know! OMG, what a 180 from him on that!

And, as Democrats will be quick to point out, they were already working on their own legislation that would give $1 billion in funding for border security (but not a wall – to be clear).

natesilver: Right, and Trump hasn’t really made the case as to why a wall is necessary to stop the humanitarian crisis at the border.

The other thing is that … none of this is really new. This compromise, if you want to call it that, has been around for a long time. Democrats have rejected it because it doesn’t give them enough. They rejected better versions of this compromise before the shutdown began, in fact.

And Democrats have more leverage now than then because Trump needs the shutdown to end a lot more than they do — it’s hurting him politically.

micah: I guess my point is more that the convo may change.

perry: To put this bluntly, I think this speech had two audiences the media (so they will do “both sides” coverage) and Republicans (so they will stay loyal to Trump on this issue). I assume this speech will buy him at least of few days of that. And both of those, as Micah suggests, will help with the public opinion.

sarahf: I was kind of surprised that he made no mention of the thousands of furloughed government workers.

Like some kind of nod to their hardship. But nada.

perry: They’re all Democrats.

I’m joking, but that is what he thinks.

natesilver: The question is partly: will the press run with Trump’s frame?

micah: Nate, I don’t know if the media will run with it.

Probably?

The headline in the lower-third on CNN right now is “Pelosi rejects Trump’s proposal to end shutdown.”

perry: Trump may have bought himself at least another week to sustain this shutdown. Next week will be 1. Pelosi rejected Trump’s idea before he spoke, and 2. Senate holds vote and Democrats filibuster.

You all disagree?

micah: I think that’s right, Perry.

As we’re chatting, here’s Politico’s headline: “Trump’s bid to negotiate on wall met by Democratic rejection”

The Washington Post: “Trump offers to protect ‘dreamers’ temporarily in exchange for wall funds”

Dallas Morning News: “Trump seeks border wall funding in exchange for DACA protections to end shutdown”

natesilver: There’s at least some semi-intelligent understanding on the White House’s part of how media dynamics work.

At least parts of the speech play well into the media’s “both sides-ism.”

micah: NBC News: “Trump offers new shutdown deal, Democrats expected to reject it”

Los Angeles Times: “President Trump proposes to extend protections for ‘Dreamers’ in exchange for border wall funding”

ABC News: “Trump will extend ‘Dreamers,’ TPS protection in exchange for full border wall funding”

CBS News: “Trump proposes deal on immigration, Pelosi calls shutdown offer a ‘non-starter’”

natesilver: But the thing about that NBC headline is that the “new” part is pretty misleading.

perry: Those are great headlines for Trump. Considering the reality is closer to this:

micah: Yeah, at least in the very very early going, this seems like a good move by Trump.

natesilver: Keep in mind that media might feel a little chastened this week by the mess that’s become of the BuzzFeed story.

micah: Yeah, I was thinking that.

perry: I also think that keeping the Lindsey Graham’s of the world happy is something Trump cares about. The Republicans on the Sunday shows now have something to say. So do the Will Hurd’s.

micah: Very good point.

perry: Pelosi and Democrats, I would argue, were more unified than Republicans before this speech. But I wonder if some moderate Democrats start getting nervous now.

natesilver: The path here is like:

1. Trump and Republicans maintain some degree of message discipline for a week or so;
1b. Trump and Republicans don’t face too many defections from their own base;
2. Polling and other indications show that blame for the shutdown is shifting away from Trump and toward Democrats;
2b. There aren’t any strikes or planes falling from the sky that create a crisis and force an immediate end to the shutdown;
3. Trump offers Democrats a little bit — maybe quite a bit — more.

If all of that happens, maybe he gets a deal!

And no one of those steps is *that* crazy.

perry: So the fundamentals of this issue have not changed, you are saying, Nate?

natesilver: I don’t really think it changed anything.

perry: I agree.

natesilver: Except Trump made a chess move to advance the game instead of just sitting there petulantly staring at his opponent and watching his clock run down.

micah: “It gives him some more time” is a good read, I think.

natesilver: It was an extremely standard chess move, but at least it was a move!

sarahf: Well, I mean leading up to this speech there had been some speculation he’d declare a national emergency. And he didn’t do that.

So all things considered, I think this was a much smarter political move to make.

natesilver: Oh yeah, this is definitely better than that.

sarahf: Because I do think at this point Democrats have to say something other than, “we won’t support this.”

natesilver: It was, like, almost what a normal president with a competent group of advisors would do!

sarahf: Hahaha yeah

natesilver: But it will require a lot of follow through.

perry: I think Trump is aware that declaring a national emergency is a “loss.” He doesn’t want a “loss.” I don’t know how he gets a win. I actually think, this proposal, if it was passed, would very much irritate the right.

I will be curious how the right receives this idea.

perry: Ann Coulter attacked it hard.

natesilver: Coulter attacked it … although… you could almost say that’s helpful for Trump.

perry: Good point.

It makes it seem like more of a compromise if the right hates it.

natesilver: Now, if he loses the votes from several conservative Republicans in the Senate, then he’s screwed.

Or if he himself has second thoughts because Sean Hannity calls him tonight, he could screw himself.

perry: That’s an interesting question: Can Sen. Ted Cruz vote for this?

Can it actually pass the Senate?

micah: That is interesting!

perry: Because I assume part of the play here is for Republicans in the Senate to be seen doing something about the shutdown.

Would Sens. Susan Collins and Cory Gardner support this from the left-wing of the GOP? I think yes. But would Cruz, and some of the more hard-core immigration members on the more conservative wing of the party?

I assume yes, but I’m not sure.

micah: Wouldn’t you assume he cleared this with the Cruz’s of the world before unveiling it?

perry: I would not at all assume that.

micah: LOL.

That was a soft-ball.

perry: McConnell maybe.

sarahf: Yeah, I’m not picturing mass Republican defections here in the Senate … I guess just because McConnell seems to have been so heavily involved in negotiating this.

natesilver: Right, yeah

perry: Do we think any Democrats vote for it?

Doug Jones? Joe Manchin?

I assume no, right?

natesilver: Manchin maybe.

He voted to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, so it’s not exactly like he’s worried about stoking the ire of the Democratic base.

sarahf: But it does make you wonder why Trump ever listened to Mark Meadows and the Freedom Caucus in the first place getting into this mess.

Wouldn’t have $1.7 billion or whatever it was and no extension for DACA, TPS, etc. have been more popular for them?

I guess none of it went to the wall. So maybe not. No way to appease anyone!

natesilver: Right, the $1.7 billion didn’t specifically include border wall funding though.

perry: Another question: I think I’m a believer in the distraction theory, so would Trump have scheduled this speech if he knew Buzzfeed’s Michael Cohen story would be so heavily criticized?

micah: He sorta stepped on a pretty good news cycle for him.

Though Buzzfeed is standing by its reporting.

natesilver: Hmm. But the fact that he had a good news cycle probably means that today will be portrayed more favorably by the press.

So that gave him more incentive to do it.

perry: So you think the media, cowed by the coverage of the Cohen story, will cover this announcement more favorably than otherwise?

natesilver: The headlines we’re seeing are not “Embattled Trump desperately proposes already-rejected compromise in meandering speech,” but rather “Trump proposes new compromise and Pelosi rejects.”

micah: And you think the former is more accurate than the latter?

natesilver: I think “Trump again proposes already-rejected compromise in competent speech; Pelosi reiterates that she won’t agree” is roughly correct.

micah: The other thing maybe worth keeping in mind: The politics of the shutdown right now are really bad for Trump. Trump is unpopular, and the wall is even more unpopular. This is from our friends at The Upshot:

micah: And this is from us:

I guess what I’m saying is that it wouldn’t be too surprising if the politics of this improved for Trump after his speech, given where they are now. There’s plenty of room to improve.

Anyway … final thoughts?

perry: We know that presidential addresses generally don’t work. But Trump is making those political scientists look really smart.

sarahf: I think the fact that Trump didn’t consult Democratic leadership is a big ding against this proposal. But the fact that Trump did put forward some kind of compromise is something. It has the potential to change the politics around the shutdown.

It’ll be interesting to see what congressional Republicans actually put forward and what Democrats choose to counter with.

natesilver: I thought it was a bit weird at the end when Trump said this was just the start of negotiations on a much bigger immigration solution.

If this is just small potatoes stuff, Pelosi might ask, why do we need to keep the government shut down, when we’re going to have a much bigger discussion about immigration anyway?

That’s ultimately the question that Trump doesn’t really have a good answer for. Why do we need to keep the government shut down to have this negotiation?

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Pelosi will need to be clear about that in their own messaging.

At the same … I wonder if they also want to float, maybe on background because it does sort of contradict the message of “no negotiations at all while there’s a shutdown,” some notion of what a real compromise would look like. e.g. the full DREAM Act.

Or my idea: Offer HR1, the Democrats’ election reform/voting rights bill, in exchange for the border wall.

perry: The one reason I have a hard time seeing any deal being cut: “the wall is a monument to racism” is a real view on the left and has real influence. That makes it much harder Democrats to sign off on any money for the wall.

natesilver: Also, Republicans would presumably never agree to HR 1. But it moves the Overton Window (sorry if that’s become an overused concept now) and frames the idea that Republicans are nowhere near offering a fair compromise.

If the wall is so important to Trump — and he’s often talked about it as his signature priority — a fair offer now that we have bipartisan control of government would be to give Democrats what’s literally their No. 1 priority (given that they named the bill HR1) as well.

(That’s Pelosi’s hypothetical argument, not me necessarily endorsing the deal as fair to Republicans.)

micah: Yeah, that kind of deal seems a looooooong ways off.