Polls flash warning signs for Trump on impeachment
By Jonathan Easley 10/8/19
New public opinion surveys show signs of trouble for President Trump in the fast-evolving impeachment inquiry unfolding just 13 months out from Election Day.
Polls out this week show independents and a growing share of Republicans warming to the inquiry or expressing concern about Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.
While early shifts in support of impeachment appeared to be driven by Democrats, a Washington Post–Schar School poll released on Tuesday rocked Washington, finding that nearly 30 percent of Republicans support the impeachment investigation and nearly 20 percent support a Senate vote to remove the president if he is impeached in the House.
Since July, the poll found support for an impeachment inquiry has grown by 25 points among Democrats, 21 points among Republicans and 20 points among independents.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s average of polls, support for impeachment among Republicans has increased from 8 percent last month to 16.2 percent presently, while support among independents has leaped from 33.9 percent to 44.4 percent.
Some Democrats who were worried that impeachment would backfire are breathing a little bit easier now, confident that if they lay out the case for impeachment, public opinion will follow.
“This is becoming a serious liability for the president and for the Republicans who remain with him,” said Andrew Feldman, a Democratic strategist.
Still, there is debate among experts about the significance of the new polls, and not all Democrats are convinced that the impeachment gamble won’t come back to haunt them.
“Hillary Clinton was leading in the polls on Election Day,” said one Democratic fundraiser. “I want to see this poll again when we start having people testify over the course of a few months after Republicans stay on message and use Fox News to their advantage. If by then independents are still for it, OK. But I don’t see that happening.”
Trump and his allies have only just begun running millions of dollars worth of ads attacking Democrats for launching the impeachment inquiry.
And Trump’s approval rating, which has been locked in the low 40 percent range for most of his presidency, has not budged. Overall, the president maintains near universal support from Republicans in most polls.
“Americans always support inquiries and investigations,” said Mark Penn, the co-director of Harvard CAPS–Harris Poll.
“We see a modest uptick in [support for] impeachment but his job approval is holding steady and if people really soured on him you would see it plummet 20 points. That would be a big deal.”
House Republicans are largely united behind Trump, and while a handful of GOP senators have criticized the president for his actions — led by Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) — none are publicly advocating for impeachment.
“Research shows opinion often follows elite signaling and the slightly less than 1 in 5 Republicans who now back impeachment are likely the kind of Trump-skeptical Republicans who public criticism from people like Romney and Sasse would motivate,” said Chris Wilson, a veteran Republican pollster and CEO of WPA Intelligence.
“This doesn't represent the first drip in a wave of Republicans breaking against Trump so much as it represents anti-Trump Republicans responding to elite signals."
Still, it appears that the Ukraine controversy is beginning to test the limits of GOP loyalty toward the president.
The latest USA Today–Ipsos poll found that 30 percent of Republicans view Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate Biden as an abuse of power, with 17 percent of GOP voters supporting the House inquiry.
And a Monmouth University survey found GOP support for the impeachment inquiry doubling month-over-month to 16 percent in October.
In the Washington Post poll, two-thirds of independents surveyed and one-third of Republicans said Trump was wrong to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden. Overall, 62 percent of voters said Trump’s actions were inappropriate and 58 percent support impeachment.
A strong majority of voters in most polls view Trump’s conduct as inappropriate, leading Democrats to believe there is significant room for support for impeachment to grow if they continue to make the case.
“Every day new pieces of this story come out and lead voters to grow warmer to the idea of impeachment,” Feldman said. “This goes well beyond his stupid tweets and attacks; involving a foreign government crosses a line for a great many people.”
GOP leaders are working furiously behind the scenes to calm the troops and keep the party united.
On a Monday phone call with Republican lawmakers, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) presented data from a poll conducted on behalf of the House GOP campaign arm that has more optimistic data for the president and his allies, particularly in the battleground districts where Democrats will be on defense in 2020.
The survey of 95 battleground districts found that 67 percent of independents view impeachment as politically motivated. A GOP candidate who opposes impeachment leads a pro-impeachment Democrat 50 percent to 42 percent in the poll.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) slow-walked a drive for impeachment for months over concerns it would cost the Democrats newly won House seats in districts Trump carried in 2016.
There are 44 Democrats in the party’s “Frontline Program" to protect vulnerable lawmakers and 31 Democrats represent districts that Trump carried in 2016. Republicans need to flip 19 seats to take back the House in 2020.
The House GOP survey found that in districts that Trump carried in 2016 that are currently held by Democrats, the generic GOP candidate holds a 54 percent to 38 percent lead.
Some Democrats, such as Rep. Elissa Slotkin (Mich.), a member of the Frontline Program, are facing protests back home at town hall events over the impeachment fight.
And Democrats have been worried that the impeachment fight will blow the party off course and cause lawmakers and candidates to lose track of the economic issues they hope to run on.
The House GOP survey found that 68 percent of voters in battleground districts agree with the statement that Democrats “should be more concerned about addressing the issues of the day,” such as health care and the economy.
"Voters clearly believe impeachment is sidetracking the country and Congress, will keep Congress from getting anything else done, and cause even deeper partisan divisions in the country," said a slide from a PowerPoint presentation delivered to GOP lawmakers.
"Congressional Democrats who represent Trump districts appear to be in a precarious position here, as their voters clearly side against impeachment and are much more willing to vote for a GOP candidate opposing impeachment than a Democrat supporting it."