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

TV Network TOTAL Ukraine Russia
Fox 332 44.2%
CBS 174 35.3
ABC 184 33.1
NBC 176 29.4
CNN 171 29.2
MSNBC 108 10.5
Other 100 38.7
Don’t watch 476 21.4

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: Sondland Ties Trump And Top Administration Officials To Quid Pro Quo

On the fourth day of public impeachment hearings, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, took questions from the ranking members of the intelligence committee and their lawyers. Sondland testified that the arrangement Trump was pushing for was a quid pro quo .

Trump wanted investigations into his political rivals in exchange for granting the Ukrainian president a White House visit. The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast is reacting to the impeachment hearings as they happen, and in this installment, the crew discusses Sondland’s testimony and the arguments both Democrats and Republicans pursued.

FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast: Sondland Ties Trump, Top Officials To Quid Pro Quo

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: Sondland Ties Trump, Top Officials To Quid Pro Quo

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.

Where The Public Stands On Impeachment One Month In

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll(s) of the week

About two weeks ago, we wrote that impeaching President Trump had near-majority support from the American public. This was notable because, at the beginning of October, Americans were about evenly divided on impeachment with just over 45 percent on each side, so there was some question whether this was a new normal or if the numbers would revert to the mean. But so far, support for impeachment hasn’t decreased. According to our impeachment polling tracker, if we look at all the polls, 49.1 percent of Americans support impeachment and 43.5 percent oppose it.

We can also drill down into the different types of questions asked about impeachment. For example, one of the views in our tracker only averages polls that ask Americans if they support beginning the impeachment process, while a separate view averages polls that ask if Americans support Trump’s impeachment and/or removal from office. And right now, there is more support for opening an inquiry than for full-blown impeachment. Currently, 53.1 percent of Americans support beginning the process, while 48.1 percent support impeachment and possible removal.

Support for beginning the impeachment process has been pretty stable, too, since it first shot up to 52.9 percent on Oct. 7. Support has hovered at 52-53 percent, though some of that stability is probably because fewer polls are asking about opening the inquiry. (And I would expect them to eventually taper off completely as the decision to open the inquiry becomes older and older news.)

And a new Quinnipiac poll illustrates some of this. It was the fourth time that Quinnipiac had asked whether Americans supported the impeachment inquiry (it first asked in late September), and it found that a majority of Americans — 55 percent — approve of the inquiry. This result was essentially the same as the previous times they asked: Approval of the inquiry has fluctuated slightly between 51 and 55 percent, while disapproval has remained stuck between 43 and 45 percent.

Support for impeaching and removing the president from office has also been relatively stable in Quinnipiac’s polling. The most recent poll found the country essentially evenly divided on whether Trump should be “impeached and removed from office” — 48 percent said he should be while 46 percent said he shouldn’t be, a gap that’s within the poll’s margin of error. Those numbers have only moved a couple points in either direction since the end of September. That said, our polling average suggests that support for impeachment may still be ticking upward. The increase since the beginning of the month has been slow but steady. As of Thursday night, 48.1 percent of Americans support impeachment and potential removal in our tracker’s average, while 43.7 percent oppose it.

Indeed, net support for impeachment and potential removal is higher in our average than in Quinnipiac’s polling. Our average is more in line with a CNN/SSRS poll released this week that found a full 50 percent of Americans said they believed Trump should be impeached and removed from office, while 43 percent didn’t feel that way.

But arguably the more important measurement to look at is Trump’s approval rating. And at the beginning of October, Trump’s approval rating appeared to sharply decline as the Ukraine scandal unfolded. But his rating has not continued to plummet. Instead, it remains within the same narrow range that it has occupied for most of the year. However, it has slumped to the very bottom edge of that range. Currently, 40.6 percent of Americans approve of Trump and 54.6 percent disapprove — his worst numbers since February. So even if the bottom hasn’t dropped out, it’s possible that current events are keeping his popularity depressed.

Mind you, those events aren’t just limited to impeachment. Over the past two weeks, Trump has ordered the withdrawal of U.S. troops from their position defending Kurdish forces in Syria, and he proposed (then backtracked on) holding the next G-7 summit at his own resort in Florida. These actions drew rare rebukes from members of Trump’s own party, perhaps anticipating that Americans would find them especially serious (or signaling to the public that Trump had crossed a line).

But we’ve seen this movie enough times before to know that Trump’s approval rating might just as quickly perk back up next week. The current drop in Trump’s popularity may or may not be meaningful, but for now, recent events certainly aren’t doing him any favors politically. Indeed, if impeachment support continues to rise, it could be a rough winter for President Trump.

Other polling bites

  • Interestingly, even though the CNN/SSRS poll shows that Americans support impeaching Trump, that doesn’t mean they approve of how Congress is going about it. Only 43 percent approve of the way Democrats in Congress are handling the impeachment inquiry, while 49 percent disapprove. However, the numbers are much worse for Republicans in Congress: just 30 percent approve of the way they’re handling the inquiry and 57 percent disapprove. And Americans say, 50 percent to 40 percent, that Republicans oppose impeachment because they are out to protect Trump at all costs, not because they believe he did not commit impeachable offenses.
  • A final tidbit from that very meaty CNN/SSRS poll: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s net favorability rating (favorable rating minus unfavorable rating) is just -2, which is a big improvement from her typical standing in recent years (for example, in September 2017, it was -21). In fact, Pelosi’s net favorability rating is the highest it’s been in CNN/SSRS’s polling since January 2009, which certainly suggests coming out for impeachment hasn’t hurt her.
  • This week, we got our first nonpartisan poll of the Mississippi governor’s race since July. According to Mason-Dixon Polling, Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves leads Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood just 46 percent to 43 percent. The election is on Nov. 5.
  • While national polls indicate that granting statehood to Washington, D.C., is unpopular with the public, a Washington Post/University of Maryland poll finds that Maryland residents support it, 51 percent to 40 percent. What they don’t want is retrocession, an alternative proposal to enfranchise Washingtonians by re-combining the District with Maryland. Marylanders oppose that idea 57 percent to 36 percent.
  • According to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, 55 percent of Republicans whose primary news source is Fox News say there is nothing that Trump could do to lose their approval. Only 29 percent of Republicans whose primary news source is not Fox News say that. PRRI also told The Washington Post that 71 percent of Fox-favoring Republicans strongly approve of Trump’s job performance, while only 39 percent of non-Fox-favoring Republicans do.
  • The World Series started on Tuesday, and according to an Ipsos poll conducted before Game 1, 46 percent of Americans planned to follow along. Of them, 37 percent were root, root, rooting for the Washington Nationals,17 while 33 percent wanted the Houston Astros to win18 (28 percent have no preference). However, Series watchers thought the Astros would win, 55 percent to 23 percent — although that was before the Nationals won the first two games of the seven-game series.
  • You may be too old to go trick-or-treating, but there’s another way to get your hands on those sweet, sweet Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. According to a YouGov poll, 74 percent of parents of children under 18 say they steal at least a few pieces of candy from their kids’ Halloween hauls. Four percent even say they eat all of it — now that’s scary.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 40.6 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 54.6 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -14 points). At this time last week, 41.6 percent approved and 54.0 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -12.4 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 43.1 percent and a disapproval rating of 53.0 percent, for a net approval rating of -9.9 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead by 6.3 percentage points (46.6 percent to 40.3 percent). Those numbers are unchanged from a week ago. At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 6.8 points (46.8 percent to 40.0 percent).

Check out all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the 2020 elections.

How Impeachment Is Being Spun

Welcome to The Spin Cycle, a semi-regular look at how the impeachment inquiry is being sold to the American public by Washington-types — both those who are looking to oust the president and those looking to save him.

The most marked quality of the last three years of American political life is the sheer number of news-making events that have occurred. Those events and their aftermath can be near-impossible to keep track of.

Impeachment has only complicated things, which is impressive, since the facts of the Democrats’ inquiry into President Trump’s pressuring of Ukraine seem relatively straightforward. But of course, impeachment is a political process, not a criminal one — the founding fathers were vague about what “high crimes and misdemeanors” meant, perhaps so that generations of lawyers could earn their nut figuring it all out.

Impeachment, as it turns out, is really about politicians selling the public on the facts as they’d like them interpreted; it’s a public relations operation as much as a constitutionally-allotted power. We decided it makes sense not just to keep track of the inquiry’s pile of evidence, but to also track how politicians are interpreting that evidence and how the public responds to their spin. We are interested, in other words, in how the facts get laundered.

The facts are themselves crucially important, of course. But finding the truth in politics often means wading through ankle-deep, barnyard-sweet bullshit. The spin. The grandstanding. The press conferences in front of helicopters and flags.

So let’s be organized about this and lay things out as they are on October 11, from facts to spin to public opinion.

The inquiry’s central facts

If the Ukraine impeachment scandal was a dish of Chicken Kiev, think of these facts as the chicken breast, pounded thin under the pressure of high-wattage political scandal: On July 25, President Trump had a call with the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. During the call, Trump pressured Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter. Text message exchanges between Trump officials and advisors to Zelensky later revealed that the Trump administration was in negotiations to secure the investigation — the Americans dangled a visit to the White House as bait. Around the same time, the White House blocked $400 million in aid to Ukraine, suggesting that the Ukrainians may have faced additional pressure to comply with Trump’s request.

An ever-expanding cast of characters animates those central facts. There’s the CIA whistleblower whose formal complaint about Trump’s call with Zelensky allowed all of these facts to be spilled out into public view — he’s the herbed butter of the Chicken Kiev, bursting with flavorful information. (Ok, I’ll stop.) He has been followed in recent days by a new whistleblower, who reportedly has first-hand knowledge of Trump’s Ukraine interactions.

And just this week, two associates of the president’s lawyer and America’s (former) mayor, Rudy Giuliani, were arrested and indicted for violating campaign finance law. The indictment says they helped funnel foreign money to candidates for office. The men, American citizens born in eastern Europe, appeared to be part of a pressure campaign to remove the American ambassador to Ukraine — reportedly at the behest of Giuliani — from her post.

The political spin

The Democrats

The Democrats are waging a two-front war of sorts: one in the hearing rooms of the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and the other on the 2020 campaign trail.

On the Congressional front: In her September 24 speech opening up the impeachment inquiry, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said: “The president has admitted to asking the president of Ukraine to take actions which would benefit him politically. The actions of the Trump presidency revealed dishonorable facts of betrayal of his oath of office and betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.” She was saying the president has already committed an impeachable offense and that we already have the evidence of him doing so. No spin needed.

Of course, “no spin needed, just the facts” is a spin of its own. “Every new piece of information has corroborated the basic facts, which are devastating for the president,” Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney told the Times, in a perfect demonstration of the restrained (for now) party line.

To reinforce their fact-gathering mode, on October 4, Democrats sent a subpoena notice to the White House for documents relating to the Ukraine dealings. Failure to comply, the letter said, “shall constitute evidence of obstruction.” Other administration officials have since received subpoenas, as well.

On the campaign front: Democrats running for president have caught onto the idea that the de rigueur line on impeachment is “the facts speak for themselves.” Speaking at a campaign event on October 5, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who has run a campaign based on what she’d have you believe is a core Midwestern ethos of not rocking the boat, said, “I think that all of us believe that the evidence is there.”

Joe Biden has been slow to stir up big news when it comes to the impeachment drama, perhaps because it’s his family’s name being dragged through the scandal. But on October 9, Biden called clearly for the president to be impeached, not just to be investigated, which was further than he’d gone in his previous comments on the matter.

The Republicans

There’s a lot going on here. It started out a little messy but a couple of weeks in, the party line on the impeachment inquiry seems to have coalesced into, “It’s a partisan witch hunt!” and stall, stall, stall.

On October 8, the White House counsel wrote back to congressional Democrats’ document subpoenas with an elaborate, eight-page long “hell no.”

Calling the inquiry “constitutionally illegitimate,” the White House is refusing to cooperate. On the substance of the call with the Ukrainian president, the letter concludes, “The record clearly established that the call was completely appropriate and that there is no basis for your inquiry.” The State Department also prevented Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union and a key player in the text message exchanges, from testifying before congress.

Trump, for his part, has spent the past few days trying to normalize the call with Ukraine and his requests to a foreign government to interfere in a U.S, election by investigating one of his political rivals. Trump’s 2020 campaign has released an ad that spins the phone call as innocent and the impeachment inquiry as an effort to overturn the results of the 2016 election. His Twitter timeline is a litany of tweets about the supposedly partisan nature of the whistleblower’s complaint, making liberal use of the phrase, the “Do Nothing Democrats,” and calling for Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, to be impeached.

Perhaps the most interesting twist, though, is the mixed response of Fox News. Tucker Carlson, a fanatical Trump supporter, co-wrote a column in which he said, “Donald Trump should not have been on the phone with a foreign head of state encouraging another country to investigate his political opponent … there’s no way to spin this as a good idea.” On Oct. 10, the New York Times reported that Attorney General Bill Barr had a private meeting on October 9 with Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox’s parent company. (“Succession” writers, take note.) The morning after the meeting, Trump tweeted angrily in a response to a Fox poll that found 51 percent of Americans think he should be impeached and removed from office. So, all is not well in the right’s political-media nexis; the inquiry is setting teeth on edge, not least the president’s.

How’s it all playing?

All in all, there’s more noise coming from the Republican side of things. For now, though, they’re not winning the public opinion battle. According to our impeachment tracker, support for impeachment has only strengthened over the past couple of weeks. At this writing, 49.3 percent of Americans support it and 43.5 percent oppose.

So for now, the Democrats’ arguments are convincing more voters than Republicans’. But I’ll be interested to see whether the White House efforts to stall and delay will create the impression that Democrats are unfairly persecuting the president. Even Republicans’ and independents’ support of impeachment has increased in recent days, though, according to the polls.

Given a Democratic debate coming up next week, it’s unlikely that Trump will have any reprieve from the talk of his impeachment. We’ll be keeping our eyes glued to his Twitter, and our ears perked for the emerging talking points.

FiveThirtyEight: The history of impeachment

How Has The Ukraine Scandal Affected Trump’s Approval Rating?

Shortly after news broke that President Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate a political rival, support for his impeachment increased sharply, according to our impeachment polling tracker. But the ramifications of the Ukraine scandal (and the resulting impeachment inquiry) for Trump’s reelection prospects are murkier.

If the effect of the Ukraine scandal is that people who already disliked Trump simply dislike him more, Trump’s reelection chances may not be hurt that much. As you can see in recent polls, much of the increased support for impeachment so far has come from Democrats, few of whom were probably planning to vote for Trump anyway.

So one other data point to keep an eye on is Trump’s approval rating — if the scandal is turning any supporters into opponents (or at least skeptics), it will show up there. It’s still early, so public opinion is still subject to a lot of change, but now that the scandal has had almost two weeks to unfold, we may be starting to see just that:

Then again, that movement could simply be noise or reversion to the mean.

As of Sept. 24 — the day House Speaker Nancy Pelosi formally announced an impeachment inquiry — Trump’s approval rating sat at an unusually high 43.1 percent. But today, his approval rating sits at 41.3 percent.1 That’s a nearly 2-point drop in a little over a week, suggesting that the Ukraine scandal may be giving Trump supporters second thoughts about the president. Two points isn’t a ton of movement, but as my colleague Geoffrey Skelley has written, Trump’s approval rating is incredibly stable, so even a shift of 1 or 2 points can be notable.

On the other hand, this also just brings Trump’s approval rating back to about where it was earlier in September. In fact, Trump’s 43.1 percent approval rating on Sept. 24 was his highest mark all year,2 and it’s possible that the uptick that got Trump there was just noise. If you look only at high-quality polls3 of Trump’s approval rating before and after news of the Ukraine scandal broke,4 there’s actually been little change in Trump’s popularity (if anything, it has ticked slightly up).

Trump’s approval rating hasn’t changed in high-quality polls

Change in Trump’s approval rating from before news snowballed of a whistleblower complaint involving President Trump, according to pollsters with FiveThirtyEight pollster ratings of at least an A-

Trump Approval Rating
Pollster Before Sept. 20 After Sept. 20 Change
Quinnipiac University* 38% 41% +3
Monmouth University 40 41 +1
Marist College 41 44 +3

* Quinnipiac also conducted a poll while the Ukraine scandal was still unfolding, from Sept. 19 to Sept. 23. Trump’s approval rating was 40 percent in that poll.

Source: Polls

Another possibility is that the Ukraine scandal reversed a mini polling comeback that Trump was enjoying in mid-September, and these high-quality polls missed it simply due to timing. The bottom line is, a lot of things could be happening here, and we should wait for more data.

In summary, here in the early days of the Ukraine/impeachment drama, Trump’s popularity has stayed within the narrow range it has inhabited since February (41.0-43.1 percent for his approval rating, 52.3-54.3 percent for his disapproval rating). In other words, the Ukraine scandal still hasn’t eaten into Trump’s true base of support.

But that doesn’t mean that his low approval rating won’t be a problem for him in 2020. There is a nontrivial difference between a 43 percent approval rating and a 41 percent approval rating, and at 41 percent or lower (if it continues to trend downward), it’ll be that much harder for him to win 46 percent of the popular vote like he did in 2016 (let alone improve on that performance). It’s too early to draw any conclusions for sure, but how Trump’s approval ratings change in the coming weeks will be among the most important consequences of this story.

How Views On Impeachment Have Changed In Just One Week

Independents Trust Mueller, Which Could Be Bad News For Trump

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll of the week

A new survey has found that most Americans trust special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 election — although opinion is sharply split along partisan lines. Yet Mueller still receives higher marks than 1990s independent counsel Ken Starr, who faced a similar partisan divide. If party loyalty hasn’t changed in the past 20 years, what has? The views of independent voters.

According to a Washington Post-Schar School poll released this week, 51 percent of adults approve of the way Mueller is handling the investigation, while 34 percent disapprove. Similarly, 57 percent think Mueller is mostly interested in uncovering the truth, while 36 percent think he’s out to hurt President Trump politically. By contrast, a majority of Americans thought Starr was mainly interested in hurting then-President Bill Clinton politically in the Whitewater investigation.

During both the Starr and Mueller probes, members of the president’s party were convinced that the investigators had the knives out for their president, and members of the opposition party believed the investigators had noble intentions. Since the partisan divides are similar in both cases, independent voters are the main drivers behind the difference in overall public opinion. In 1998, as the Whitewater investigation was wrapping up, 59 percent of independents told the Post that they thought Starr’s investigation was politically motivated. This year, 57 percent said they have faith in Mueller.

The poll also suggests that independents may be the deciding factor in whether the public supports Trump’s impeachment, if it comes to that. Per the Post poll, if Mueller’s report finds that Trump obstructed justice by trying to undermine the Russia investigation, Americans believe — 65 percent to 29 percent — that Congress should impeach Trump and try to remove him from office.8 And if the report concludes that Trump authorized his campaign staff to collude with Russia, Americans support impeachment and attempted removal by a similar margin: 61 percent to 33 percent.

Those numbers may seem surprisingly high. But impeachment is a political process and, quite frankly, a partisan one. According to this poll and many others, most Democrats already support beginning impeachment proceedings against Trump — so right off that bat, that’s a sizable chunk of the country in favor. And this poll added a conditional to its question: “If Mueller’s report concludes….” Since independents mostly see Mueller as a fair judge, it makes sense that most of them would support impeachment if Mueller finds grounds for it. And indeed they do, at least in this poll: 61 percent support impeachment if Trump approved coordination with the Russian government, and 68 percent support impeachment if he obstructed justice.

By contrast, independents were not on board with attempts to remove Clinton from office, even after Starr’s report recommended impeachment. A Post/ABC News poll from December 1998 found that three out of four independents said that Clinton should not be removed from office. Most Republicans wanted Clinton removed, while most Democrats wanted him to stay put. Overall, support for removal sat at just 33 percent.

A key difference may have been that Americans, especially independents, were not convinced that Starr had proved his case. The public widely believed that the inclusion of explicit sexual details in the Starr report was inappropriate, and, as previously mentioned, independents did not believe Starr was conducting an impartial investigation. It’s possible that, if the Mueller report is publicly released, people will find his conclusions similarly lacking. But the questions from this week’s poll suggest that the public would believe Mueller if he concludes Trump committed a crime. Of course, that’s a big if; should Mueller stop short of such a declaration, it’s a safe bet that support for impeachment would not be in the 60s.

Other polling nuggets

  • According to another Washington Post-Schar School poll, 47 percent of Virginians think their governor, Democrat Ralph Northam, should resign in the wake of the revelation that there is a racist photo on his page in his 1984 medical school yearbook. Another 47 percent said Northam should remain in office. Northam originally apologized and said he was one of the people in the photo (which features one person in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe). But Northam reversed himself the next day. He currently maintains he was not in the photo but has admitted to wearing blackface on a different occasion.
  • A poll conducted for The New York Times Upshot by Morning Consult found that 5 percent of U.S. adults admitted to wearing blackface at some point in their lives. Twenty percent said they’d seen someone wearing blackface.
  • According to a different Morning Consult survey, for Politico, Republicans are more willing than Democrats to vote for a politician from their own party who has been accused of either wearing blackface or committing sexual misconduct. However, committing tax fraud and misusing taxpayer dollars, among some other scandals, were about equally likely to be deal-breakers for members of both parties.
  • According to a survey by HuffPost/YouGov, 42 percent of Americans think the Democratic Party is too extreme. Forty percent think the Republican Party is too extreme. But in both cases, those people tend to be members of the opposite party; only 12 percent of members of each party find their own party too extreme. And only 11 percent of Americans think both parties are too extreme.
  • ScottRasmussen.com and HarrisX found that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the most popular Supreme Court justice, based on the share of registered voters who say they have a “very” or “somewhat” favorable view of her (43 percent). Brett Kavanaugh is the best-known justice — only 9 percent of respondents have never heard of him — but that fame comes at a cost: He also has the highest unfavorable rating of any justice, with 34 percent viewing him in a negative light. Stephen Breyer has the lowest name recognition of any justice; 32 percent said they’ve never heard of him.
  • Amazon has canceled its plan to build a headquarters in New York City in the face of opposition from residents and some politicians. However, a Siena College poll of registered voters in New York state that was released before Thursday’s announcement found that 56 percent approved of the package of tax incentives that New York used to lure the company, while 36 percent disapproved. In New York City alone, 58 percent approved and 35 percent disapproved.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 41.5 percent approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 54.1 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -12.6 points). At this time last week, 40.1 percent approved and 55.3 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -15.2 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 40.7 percent and a disapproval rating of 54.4 percent, for a net approval rating of -13.7 points.

From ABC News: