Anyone paying attention to elite Democratic opinion since the redacted but revealing Mueller report came out has felt impeachment sentiment heating back up after Nancy Pelosi’s efforts to tamp it down earlier this year. It seethes from progressive Twitter, from restive House members, and most recently from two major presidential candidates, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris (with others inching in that direction), and one currently minor candidate, Seth Moulton. The reason for this upsurge in impeachment fever is obvious: Mueller documented multiple incidents of presidential obstruction of justice while making it clear that only Congress (or voters) had the power to do anything about it. Meanwhile, the Trump administration is stonewalling any congressional efforts to get at the truth through hearings or subpoenas. And while Pelosi clearly still believes that impeachment could mess up promising Democrats’ plans to beat Trump in 2020, others are convinced beginning the process is the best and only way to dramatize his crimes and corruption in order to beat him. Still others adamantly say impeaching him is necessary to defend the Constitution no matter what it means politically.
But as a new ABC/Washington Post survey shows, this upsurge in support for impeachment that’s in the air may be colliding with an actual decline in support among rank-and-file Democrats. Asked if “Congress should or should not begin impeachment proceedings that could lead to Trump being removed from office,” 62 percent of self-identified Democrats answered affirmatively (53 percent favoring it strongly), while 29 percent said they were opposed. These numbers favoring impeachment sound pretty high until you realize that in August 2018 the same pollsters found that 75 percent of Democrats wanted to begin impeachment proceedings, with 63 percent backing that course of action strongly. The earlier poll was taken after Michael Cohen’s first set of guilty pleas and Paul Manafort’s first conviction, but otherwise isn’t explainable as some sort of aberration. And ABC/WaPo isn’t the first pollster to find Democratic impeachment sentiment declining this year; CNN had a similar finding last month:
Support for impeaching President Donald Trump has fallen 7 points since December, a CNN Poll conducted by SSRS finds, following Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi calling impeachment “so divisive to the country.”
The decline – from 43% in favor in December to 36% now – stems largely from a change in Democratic views on impeaching the President. In December, 80% of self-identified Democrats said they were in favor of impeachment – that now stands at 68%, a 12-point dip.
What hasn’t much changed is Republican rank-and-file opposition to impeachment. Last August’s ABC/WaPo poll showed 82 percent of self-identified Republicans opposing it (71 percent strongly). Now 87 percent oppose it, 78 percent strongly. This should dash any fantasies about Republicans coming around to a pro-impeachment stance as they did when Richard Nixon was president.
Now it’s always possible that after the Mueller findings and some of the conclusions drawn from them sink in, Democratic support for impeachment will rise again. But it’s also possible that as we get closer to the 2020 election, many will agree with presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’s argument that it’s a “distraction” from a presidential campaign that is the only way Trump can actually be removed from office.
It’s an intraparty argument that won’t last very long, since the House will definitively move one way or the other before long. But it’s important to see the quiet ripples under the surface of a debate that sometimes gets very loud.