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

The Impeachment Hearings Just Confirmed Voters’ Preexisting Opinions

The first phase of the impeachment process is over, and according to our impeachment tracker, public opinion on impeaching and removing President Trump has remained largely steady through most of November, with roughly 47 percent of Americans supporting impeachment and 44 percent opposed. And in our latest survey with Ipsos, where we check back in with the same group of respondents every two weeks using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel, we uncovered a similar trend.

A majority of Americans (57 percent) still think Trump committed an impeachable offense, which is essentially identical to the share who said so in mid-November when we first asked the question. There was one relatively small but noteworthy shift between the first and second rounds of our survey. After the first round of hearings, where witnesses testified that Trump and his allies had been involved in the push for investigations into Joe Biden and his son, respondents were more likely to agree that Trump withheld military aid to pressure the Ukrainians into opening an investigation. In our initial survey, 56 percent of respondents said they believed this happened, but in the latest poll, that number rose to 63 percent. Democrats are still, however, much more likely than Republicans to think that Trump conditioned the aid on the investigations.

Overall, though, opinion on impeachment seems to have hardened as a result of the public testimony instead of persuading people to change their position. For instance, a majority of respondents (58 percent) said that the hearings did shift their thinking on whether Trump committed an impeachable offense, but in almost all cases they simply became more convinced of their original opinion. Ninety-five percent of people who said the hearings made them more likely to think Trump committed an impeachable offense already said they thought he committed an impeachable offense in the first wave of our poll. Similarly, 95 percent of those who said the hearings made them less likely to think Trump committed an impeachable offense already thought his behavior wasn’t impeachable.10

Americans are split on whether Congress should decide Trump’s fate

Many Americans appear to have made up their minds about whether Trump committed an impeachable offense, but what do they think should happen to Trump next? This time, we asked respondents how they thought the impeachment process should end for Trump: Should he be impeached by the House and removed from office by the Senate? Or should his fate be decided in the 2020 election? Respondents were slightly more likely to say that the voters should determine what happens to Trump’s presidency (51 percent), while 47 percent said Congress should impeach him and remove him from office.

This means that 12 percent of respondents in our survey believed that Trump committed an impeachable offense, but that he should not be impeached and removed by Congress. Notably, Democrats were more likely than Republicans to occupy this middle ground. Just about 17 percent of Democrats believe that Trump committed an impeachable offense but his fate should be decided by the voters, rather than Congress, compared to only 7 percent of Republicans.

It’s important not to overstate the influence of the people who believe Trump committed an impeachable offense but should not be removed, given that they constitute a relatively small slice of Americans overall. But this group could still be significant for Democrats looking to draw more people into the pro-impeachment camp, since the fact that they’re already convinced of the severity of Trump’s behavior (and mostly identify as Democrats) could mean they remain somewhat persuadable.

Most Americans don’t think Ukraine interfered

Our survey also suggests that one of Trump’s defenders’ key arguments isn’t really landing. Throughout the hearings, Republicans in Congress have repeatedly floated an inaccurate theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election, using the idea as a justification for why Trump would want to ask Ukraine for investigations in the first place. But according to our survey, the idea that Ukraine interfered isn’t gaining much traction with the public. Only 30 percent of Americans believe that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election. By contrast, 71 percent of Americans believe that Russia interfered with the 2016 election. And the theory isn’t even resonating broadly among Trump’s supporters: Republicans aren’t any likelier than Democrats to think that Ukraine meddled in 2016.

There is one group, though, where a substantial chunk of respondents do believe Ukraine interfered in 2016: Fox News viewers. More than 4 in 10 respondents who say they predominantly watch Fox News say that Ukraine did interfere in the 2016 election, a higher share than among respondents who get their news from other networks. Fox News viewers were also less likely than other respondents to believe that Russia interfered with the last presidential election.

Fox viewers are most likely to believe Ukraine interfered

Share of respondents in an Ipsos/FiveThirtyEight poll who said they think Ukraine or Russia interfered in the 2016 election, by the TV news network they predominantly watched

SHARE THAT BELIEVE IN INTERFERENCE BY …
TV Network TOTAL Ukraine Russia
Fox 332 44.2%
56.3%
CBS 174 35.3
76.0
ABC 184 33.1
72.9
NBC 176 29.4
73.2
CNN 171 29.2
89.1
MSNBC 108 10.5
90.7
Other 100 38.7
78.5
Don’t watch 476 21.4
65.7

From a poll with 1,726 respondents, conducted from Nov. 27 to Dec. 2. TV news network information comes from wave 1 of the poll, conducted Nov. 13 to Nov. 18.

It makes sense that Fox News viewers are more likely to believe that Ukraine interfered, since Trump himself recently laid out the debunked theory on “Fox & Friends.” Overall, though, the fact that the narrative hasn’t gained widespread purchase even among rank-and-file Republicans isn’t especially good news for Trump’s defenders. As the impeachment process moves forward, both sides may find it increasingly difficult to change Americans’ minds.

Politics Podcast: A Very FiveThirtyEight Thanksgiving

After five days of testimony, the House’s public impeachment hearings are over for now. In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the team takes stock of what we learned and the effect of the hearings on public opinion.

Also, the crew digs into the data to see if there was a conclusive winner of last week’s Democratic debate (spoiler alert: There was).

Finally, the team plays a Thanksgiving-themed game in which they try to guess what the candidates in the Democratic primary are thankful for.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast publishes Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.

FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast: Has public opinion shifted on impeachment?