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.

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.

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