As Democrats press forward with the first phase of their impeachment inquiry, they must try to convince a deeply divided American public that President Trump committed impeachable offenses. And according to our impeachment polling tracker, they might be up against tough odds. Overall support for impeachment has been remarkably steady since October, and Americans’ appetite for impeaching and removing Trump may have even started to plateau.
So we wanted to go one step deeper and understand the state of public opinion beneath those top-line numbers — is there a group of persuadable Americans who are still on the fence about impeachment? And will Americans’ views about what constitutes an impeachable offense shift as Democrats present their case against Trump?
To answer this and more, we’re partnering with Ipsos on a panel survey that will follow the same group of respondents over the next few months, checking in with them at regular intervals to see if their perspective on impeachment has changed. Our first wave of the survey went out last week, as Democrats’ first public hearings unfolded. It revealed that most Americans think Trump has committed an impeachable offense — but Democrats still have some work to do to get the public on board with their case against Trump.
The initial wave of our survey found that even before articles of impeachment against Trump have been drafted, 56 percent of Americans agree that he has committed an impeachable offense. (We didn’t ask whether respondents believe he should be impeached or removed from office as a result.)
Unsurprisingly, though, there’s an enormous gulf between Republicans and Democrats. Democrats are nearly unanimous in their belief that Trump hascommitted an impeachable offense, whereas 4 out of 5 Republicans believe that he hasn’t.1
That doesn’t mean, though, that there isn’t room for public opinion to shift as the hearings move forward. The survey also indicated, crucially, that a significant chunk of Americans are still persuadable when it comes to impeachment. While 42 percent of respondents say they are absolutely certain about their position on impeachment, about a quarter still say they’re either “somewhat” or “not at all certain” about whether Trump committed an impeachable offense.
Within this narrower universe of people who haven’t fully made up their mind, respondents who said they currently don’t believe Trump’s behavior is impeachable were especially likely to say they’re not at all certain about their position. It’s important not to read too much into this, since we’re talking about a relatively small slice of the public2 but it suggests that there’s still room for movement among at least some people who aren’t yet on Democrats’ side.
In building their case against Trump, Democrats are using a set of key questions that are likely to serve as the foundation for articles of impeachment. In broad strokes, they are:
According to our poll with Ipsos, a majority of Americans agree that all three of these things happened and that they’re inappropriate behaviors for a president. But there’s less consensus about whether they’re impeachable offenses. Republicans, in particular, seem unconvinced that any of the three prongs in Democrats’ case against Trump are impeachable offenses.
But the differences in these responses suggests that while the public mostly views Trump’s conduct as serious, it might still be difficult for Democrats to build a broad public consensus around their articles of impeachment. As the table above shows, respondents were more likely to agree that Trump asked Ukraine to investigate the Bidens than to believe that Trump held up security aid over the investigations, or tried to cover up his actions. That makes sense — the White House’s own summary of Trump’s July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky seems to confirm as much. But while most thought all three of those actions would be inappropriate, a bare majority (51 percent) said that Trump asking Ukraine’s government to investigate the Bidens would not be an impeachable offense.
This pattern is especially noticeable among Republicans. They agree, for the most part, that Trump did ask Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. But they mostly don’t think it’s inappropriate or impeachable for Trump to have done so. And while majorities of Republicans think that it would be inappropriate for Trump to have withheld military aid over the investigations or tried to hide information from Congress, they are much less convinced that either of those things actually happened.
This could change as the televised hearings wrap up, but right now, the proceedings are getting a lot of attention. Over half (57 percent) of Americans in our survey said they’re following the impeachment proceedings somewhat or very closely, with Democrats a bit more likely to say they’re following closely.
The problem for Democrats is that the people who haven’t fully made up their minds about impeachment — regardless of their political orientation — don’t seem to be very engaged with the process. Only about 34 percent of respondents who aren’t as certain about their stance on impeachment are following the process somewhat or very closely, compared to 66 percent of respondents who are more certain. So while there are people out there who could still be convinced by the Democrats’ case against Trump, they’re also less likely to be paying attention.
Methodology: All the data presented here come from polling done by Ipsos for FiveThirtyEight, using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel, a probability-based online panel that is recruited to be representative of the U.S. population. For this study, the same group of respondents is contacted for an interview six times — roughly every two weeks for three months — to track whether and how their answers changed; this is the initial wave of this panel survey, conducted from Nov. 13 to Nov. 18 among a general population sample of adults with an oversample of independents, garnering 2,088 respondents. The study weighting included an adjustment for party identification so that results reflect the general population of U.S. adults. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 2.4 percentage points.
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