ukraine scandal

Turns Out That Impeachment Might Not Scare Voters After All

A picture of Donald Trump exiting a press conference.
Would you impeach this man? Photo: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Two new polls suggest that American voters are warming to the idea of impeaching President Trump. According to a Morning Consult poll conducted from September 24 to 26, 43 percent of the public now backs impeachment proceedings. That figure has increased seven points from an earlier Morning Consult poll, carried out from September 20 to 22. Meanwhile, an NPR–PBS NewsHour–Marist poll, conducted the day before the whistle-blower report became public, finds that voters are roughly split on the subject; 49 percent support impeachment, and 46 percent do not.

One possible reason for the increase in public support for impeachment is so obvious it almost doesn’t need an explanation. Trump is not having a very good week: As a call record and now a declassified whistle-blower report attest, Trump asked the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate the son of a political enemy — Hunter Biden — with the assistance of the Justice Department and Rudy Giuliani. Trump later tried to withhold military aid from Ukraine. The unspooling crisis encourages talk of impeachment, and a number of House Democrats have come out in support of beginning the process. But the party isn’t unified on the matter, owing perhaps to fears of voter backlash.

By now throwing her support behind an impeachment inquiry, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has helped shift public opinion in tandem with media coverage of Trump’s misconduct. But she is an extremely late convert to the cause of impeachment, despite the president’s corruption and alleged sexual violence. Her ambivalence provided shelter to more moderate and conservative members of the party, who think an impeachment inquiry would cost them their seats. Whether these members will follow Pelosi’s lead is an open question.

Though no one can say with certainty that voter enthusiasm for impeachment will continue to grow, the president’s handling of the Ukraine scandal has clearly harmed him. A good number of Democrats already seem to realize that the story leaves them with no option but to endorse impeachment proceedings. Over half of House Democrats now support an inquiry, as CNN has reported, and that includes members like Representative Antonio Delgado, who serve key swing districts. Some now look like impeachment hipsters — fans before it became popular with everyone else. Once pilloried for her profanity-laden impeachment demand, Rashida Tlaib is having a moment. The Democratic representative from Michigan is selling “Impeach the MF” T-shirts, a callback to her iconic rant. (If a lowly blogger can offer a suggestion, though: At least spell the word out!)

But there are still stragglers. Some, like conservative Henry Cuellar of Texas, equivocated even as evidence of presidential misconduct became increasingly difficult to ignore. Cuellar, who is currently locked in a primary battle with progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros, has said that he’ll support proceedings “if investigations prove that impeachment is the necessary course of action,” the Texas Tribune reports.

The events of this month make Tlaib look prescient and underscore the risks of the party’s fearful approach to impeachment. We’ve been here before: Morning Consult says that this month’s poll numbers “nearly match” its findings in August 2018, amid the convictions of Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen. Public opinion is malleable, but Democrats behave too often as if the opposite is true. The window is open, and they can’t afford their old ambivalence.

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Turns Out That Impeachment Might Not Scare Voters After All