By Chris Kahn
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Public opinion always fractures along party lines when it comes to President Donald Trump, and the congressional impeachment inquiry into whether he abused his office for personal political gain in his handling of Ukraine has done little to change that.
While most Democrats want to see him impeached, most Republicans do not. And the televised hearings last month that were meant to build public support for impeachment appear to have pushed the two sides further apart. With Democrats and Republicans increasingly dug in, the balance may shift according to the feelings of those few Americans who do not favor either party and are nearly evenly split on impeachment: political independents.
Here is what Americans have said about the impeachment inquiry over the past year, according to polling by Reuters/Ipsos:
EVERYBODY DOES IT - BUT WHAT THEN?
Most Americans believe the kind of thing that Trump is accused of – using his power to unfairly attack a political rival – is common in U.S. politics. Yet they differ on what to do with those officials who are caught.
While eight out of 10 Democrats think they should be removed, Republicans are much more likely to argue to keep them in office. Only five out of 10 Republicans think elected officials should be removed if they use the power of their office to attack a rival. And that support plunges to one in 10 when Republicans are asked about a U.S. president, not just an elected official, who leverages the office for personal gain.
Independents are in the middle. While a majority share the Democrats’ stance on removing elected officials who improperly use the power of their position, independents are much more lenient on presidents.
A majority of independents oppose an impeachment inquiry for anything short of outright lawbreaking by the president.
Eight in 10 said they oppose an inquiry for a president who uses the office to do something that is unethical “but not strictly illegal” and seven in 10 opposed an inquiry for a president who uses the office to get an unfair political advantage.
Six in 10 independents said an inquiry was justified for a president who breaks the law, and four in 10 said it was not.
WHAT INDEPENDENTS THINK OF THE INQUIRY
Independents generally lean toward supporting the congressional inquiry. Yet many are skeptical of the Democrat-led proceedings in the House, and they may sour on the entire process if it slows down other business in Washington.
About four in 10 independents say they think the congressional impeachment inquiry is not being conducted fairly.
And more than six in 10 said that Congress should “focus on fixing important problems facing Americans, rather than focusing on investigating President Trump.”
Support for impeachment is generally higher now than it was earlier in 2019.
However, Democrats are responsible for much of the increase. Republicans continue to be mostly opposed and independents are split.
The latest poll, conducted Nov. 25-26, found that 47% of Americans supported impeachment, including eight in 10 Democrats, one in 10 Republicans and four in 10 independents. It also found that 40% of Americans opposed impeachment, including one in 10 Democrats, eight in 10 Republicans and five in 10 independents.
(Reporting by Chris Kahn; editing by Ross Colvin and Jonathan Oatis)