Americans evenly divided on impeachment

Polls suggest momentum seems to building for impeachment

DEVELOPMENTS IN THE TRUMP-UKRAINE story are coming at a breakneck pace, and so now are national polls asking about whether the President should be impeached. There are enough impeachment polls now that data-analysis website FiveThirtyEight has launched an impeachment tracker. Like the site’s Trump approval tracker, the impeachment tool weights each poll “accounting for each poll’s quality, recency, sample size and partisan lean”. 

As of this writing, Americans are nearly evenly divided on whether to impeach the President, with 47 percent in favor and 45 percent opposed. That represents a marked shift towards impeachment in just the past couple weeks. Individual pollsters, like Quinnipiac, have found dramatic shifts towards support for impeachment in successive weeks of polling. 

Some of the increase stems from rising support among Democrats, who may be taking cues from party leaders who have now endorsed impeachment. The “MysteryPollster” Mark Blumenthal warns that, as the Ukraine story becomes more well-known among the public, it could “warp” the polls if Republicans become less willing to answer surveys. But right now, 538’s partisan breakout of the polling shows an 8-9 point uptick among both Democrats and independents, and a smaller 4-point increase among Republicans.  

Polling about impeachment is not entirely straightforward, as pollsters ask the question differently, sometimes in multiple ways within the same poll. (The 538 average accounts for this by averaging together multiple versions of the question from a single poll.) Some ask about opening an impeachment inquiry, others about impeachment directly. Some ask about impeachment by the House and removal by the Senate separately; others ask whether specific acts warrant impeachment. One YouGov survey from last week folded the Ukraine allegations into the impeachment question and found majority support.  

This is hardly the first time pollsters have used different questions on impeachment. During Watergate, Gallup started tracking impeachment by asking whether President Richard Nixon “should be impeached and compelled to leave the presidency.” In April 1974, Gallup changed the question to explain impeachment and then ask whether the president’s actions warranted his removal from office. With that wording, support for removal didn’t break 50 percent until the eve of Nixon resigning from office, in August 1974. 

As The Washington Post’s Philip Bump notes, it’s hard to compare Nixon’s impeachment polling to Trump’s, because of the different ways the two impeachment efforts unfolded. Support for impeaching Trump is now about where support for impeaching Nixon was in the Spring of 1974, more than a year after Congress started hearings into the matter. 

More Americans now support impeaching Trump than supported the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998. Harry Enten notes a CNN poll from 1998 found twice as many Americans opposed impeaching and removing Clinton than supported doing so. Pew polling from the time found that Clinton’s job approval increased 10 points after he was impeached. That’s in sharp contrast to Nixon, whose job approval dropped into the 20s as Watergate dragged on. Trump’s approval  has remained steady in the low 40s so far.

Meet the Author

Richard Parr

Research director, MassINC Polling Group
These three impeachments also took place in very different political and media environments. Since the 1974, politics has becomes increasingly polarized, and media much more atomized. These two trends reinforce each other, as partisans of each side gravitate to news sources that support their own points of views. One liberal media watchdog noted that Fox News viewers in a recent USA Today/Ipsos poll were much less likely to support impeachment than non viewers (17% versus 51%). 

No one has asked about impeachment in Massachusetts in the past few months. A May WBUR poll found Massachusetts voters evenly divided. Given how partisan this issue is and the Commonwealth’s Democratic tilt, it’s a safe bet that Massachusetts voters are more supportive of impeachment now than then. With Democratic presidential and Senate primaries ramping up over the next few months, expect to hear a lot from candidates on the subject.