Since the fateful decision of the House Democratic leadership to go all-in on impeachment proceedings in the wake of the president’s Ukraine scandal, a lot of pundits have been staring at rising polling numbers in favor of impeachment. They understandably wonder if Trump critics have finally found the indictment that can catch lightning in a bottle and galvanize public unhappiness with this strange and dangerous man. There is another dynamic at play here that isn’t good news for the president, at all, but points to a different explanation. The Intercept’s Aida Chavez puts her finger on it:
A new YouGov Blue poll for the Progressive Change Institute, the nonprofit polling arm of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee … found that other polls undercount support for Democrats moving forward on an impeachment inquiry. It also revealed that a third of voters who oppose impeachment actually agree that Trump committed high crimes, but are concerned that it would hurt Democrats politically …
Out of the 43 percent of voters who oppose impeachment, 65 percent believe that Trump “did not commit high crimes and misdemeanors and the voters should decide in 2020 whether he stays in office,” while 35 percent say Trump “did commit high crimes and misdemeanors, but Democrats will hurt themselves politically if they proceed on impeachment.”
In other words, many if not most impeachment-shy Democrats (and leaners) are where Nancy Pelosi was until very recently: convinced that substantively Trump deserved impeachment, but wary of complicating his removal from office by voters in just over a year. Will they follow her progression into support for impeachment, particularly now that impeachment proceedings are an accomplished fact rather than a proposition? We don’t know for sure, but it’s likely they will.
And even if you doubt the precise findings of the poll Chavez cites (an online survey for a lefty advocacy group), the trend lines are pretty much what we’ve seen elsewhere. Democratic opposition to impeachment is likely to further shrink into virtual insignificance.
A pro-impeachment trend led by consolidation of Democrats will obviously have no effect on the Republican senators who at present are guaranteeing Trump that under no circumstances will he be removed from office. And that’s why if you want a reliable indicator of how impeachment will play out — not in Congress, but in November of 2020 — it’s probably smart to focus on Trump’s overall job approval ratings rather than support for or opposition to a congressional move to boot him out of the White House. Their relative levels of popularity, after all, were principally what forced Richard Nixon to resign, while Bill Clinton survived his impeachment, as I observed a few days ago:
If House Democrats are right that the Ukraine scandal is both easy to understand and highly incriminating, the trajectory of the president’s popularity may look more like Nixon’s than Clinton’s.
RealClearPolitics’ ace analyst Sean Trende, a political independent trusted by many conservatives, looked at history and reached the same conclusion:
[I]mpeachment is, at its core, a political proceeding, rather than a legal one. To this end, we should keep a close watch on the president’s job approval. If it were to collapse, as Nixon’s did, Republicans in otherwise-safe districts may begin to feel that the upsides to voting to convict outweigh the potential primary threat.
I don’t know about that. The proximity of the 2020 elections has up until now fed Democratic fears about going into the perilous landscape of impeachment. Going forward, it will probably keep Republicans in line as the MAGA folk, whipped up by the president’s increasingly wild claims of a coup, try to turn the examination of Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors into another persecution of their hero by godless, baby-killing, snooty elites. But a critical slice of the public could grow so weary of the daily insanity of the whole Trump presidency that they will agree he needs to go next November.