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As House Democrats draft articles of impeachment against President Trump and prepare for a floor vote before Christmas, a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll shows that a majority of registered voters buy their central argument for impeachment: that Trump put his own interests above the national interest when he pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rivals.
Yet the poll also shows that Democrats have failed to translate that belief into broader support for impeachment, and that Americans remain too polarized and uncertain about key details to back Trump’s removal from office in the kind of numbers that could create real momentum as the process heads toward a Senate trial.
Asked whether Trump was “primarily acting in his own personal and political self-interest” in regard to Ukraine, 52 percent of registered voters said yes; only 35 percent said no. The gap among Independents was also sizable: 41 percent versus 27 percent. Even 15 percent of Republicans said that Trump was primarily looking out for himself.
But despite the fact that this was the central finding of the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment report — and is likely to be the ground on which the House formally votes to impeach — the overall needle on impeachment and removal has not moved since the previous Yahoo News/YouGov survey, which was conducted as televised hearings were wrapping up late last month. (The new poll was conducted from Dec. 4 to Dec. 6.)
Today, 47 percent of Americans are in favor of impeaching Trump in the House, compared to 37 percent who are opposed. The same 47 percent say he should be removed from office, which requires conviction after a trial in the Senate, while 39 percent say he should remain. Among registered voters, those numbers are even closer: 49 percent vs. 44 percent on impeachment and 47 percent vs. 45 percent on removal.
Such narrow pluralities are unlikely to convince 20 Senate Republicans — the number required for a two-thirds majority — to break ranks and vote to remove a president of their own party.
The poll suggests several reasons why Democrats have not been able to seal the deal with the broader public. The first is polarization. Since the last Yahoo News/YouGov poll, there has been a net swing of 7 percentage points in favor of impeachment among Democrats; among Republicans, there has been a net swing of 11 points in the opposite direction. The more partisans hear about Trump’s conduct toward Ukraine, the more they retreat into their respective corners. The numbers among Independents, meanwhile, have not shifted since last month.
The second reason Democrats have yet to persuade the public at large is that many Americans are still unsure which details to believe. Though a majority of registered voters (51 percent) continue to think that Trump abused his power as president — statistically unchanged from the previous Yahoo News/YouGov poll — most Americans have murkier views of exactly how he abused it. Asked, for instance, whether Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine until the government there agreed to conduct the investigations he wanted, the number of registered voters who said yes has actually fallen from 51 percent to 47 percent since the previous Yahoo New/YouGov poll. And when respondents were asked directly whether Trump called for a “quid pro quo” from Ukraine, there was even less clarity: overall, 39 percent said yes, 28 percent said no and 33 percent said they weren’t sure. Among Independents, the number who said they were unsure was even higher: 44 percent, or a substantial plurality.
This uncertainty about the fundamental facts of the case leads to the third and final problem for Democrats: a basic uncertainty about how wrong Trump’s behavior actually was. Overall, the percentage of Americans who agree that Trump’s decision to withhold aid from Ukraine undermined U.S. national security (41 percent) is far less than the combined percentage of those who disagree (33 percent) and those who are not sure (26 percent). Asked the same question, Independents were even less likely to agree (34 percent) and even more likely to say they’re not sure (37 percent).
Ultimately, the public appears to be open to the idea that Trump’s behavior toward Ukraine was no different from how previous presidents have conducted foreign policy: In fact, a full 40 percent of registered voters agreed with that statement, only slightly less than the 43 percent who disagreed. Independents were evenly divided on the question (31 percent agree to 33 percent disagree), with 36 percent saying they are not sure. It’s challenging to build momentum for impeachment when so many people assume Trump’s behavior is normal for a president.
So while Democrats have apparently failed to create the political conditions necessary for a successful removal vote in the Republican-controlled Senate, the poll did reveal one possible upside for the party. Asked how the impeachment inquiry has affected their thinking about the 2020 election, only 1 percent of 2016 Hillary Clinton voters said it has made them more likely to vote for Trump, while five times as many 2016 Trump voters said it has made them less likely to vote for the president a second time.
In other words, Trump’s presidency could end a little more than a year from now regardless of what happens in the Senate. If the revelations around the impeachment inquiry inspire 5 percent of his voters to abandon him next November, Trump would have a very hard time winning a second term.
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