As Democrats grapple with Donald Trump’s possible impeachment, the party’s leaders have some informal metrics in mind. For them, it’s not enough to simply ask whether the president committed impeachable acts or not.
It also matters whether Congress is meeting public demands and expectations. As the AP reported this morning:
The threat of impeachment hangs over the White House, but it also vexes House Democrats wary of taking next steps against President Donald Trump without broader public support.
It’s against this backdrop that CNN released the results of its new national poll, which asked respondents, “Based on what you have read or heard, do you believe that President Trump should be impeached and removed from office, or don’t you feel that way?”
In mid-March, shortly before the release of Attorney General Bill Barr’s misleading “summary” of the Mueller report, 36% supported impeaching Trump and removing him from office. In late April, it was 37%. In the results released over the weekend, that number is now up to 41%.
Obviously, that’s not a majority. In fact, the same CNN poll found 54% oppose these congressional actions against the president. But there’s been some movement of late: since March, support for impeaching Trump is up five points, and opposition is down five points.
Time will tell if we’re seeing evidence of a larger trend or whether this is a minor, temporary shift in public attitudes. But as we recently discussed, it matters that polls change. As 1973 got underway, support for Nixon’s impeachment was pretty low, too, but as congressional hearings unfolded, and the public came to terms with the scope of the president’s misdeeds, attitudes shifted.
As former Sen. William Cohen (R-Maine), who broke with Nixon on impeachment as a young lawmaker in 1974, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed last week, “It’s … important to remember that public opinion is not anchored in concrete. It shifts according to the information it finds to be persuasive and free of rank partisanship.”
I don’t necessarily blame Democratic leaders for seeing public support as a prerequisite to impeachment proceedings. It’s a monumental step, and it stands to reason that officials would want the backing of the American mainstream before taking the leap.
But there’s at least some evidence that support for impeachment is slowly inching higher, and if history is any guide, the more Americans are confronted with damaging details about the president’s alleged misdeeds, the more the polls are likely to shift.
Let’s not assume that polling on questions like these are static and inflexible. The evidence to the contrary is obvious.
Postscript: Digging through the crosstabs on the CNN poll, some related details emerge. It’s worth noting, for example, that a majority of women now support impeachment, as do a majority of non-white voters.
And while most of the public overall opposes impeachment, current levels of support for the idea are far above support for Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1998. At the time, congressional Republicans did it anyway, and two years later, voters flipped control of the White House from Democratic to GOP hands.