Democratic support for impeachment is continuing to grow both on the campaign trail and in Congress. At least 11 of the Democratic presidential candidates and at least 70 members of the House of Representatives have publicly supported the idea, which still faces continued reluctance from senior Democratic leaders including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
What the rest of America thinks about impeachment remains a more complicated question. A wave of new surveys tell often contradictory stories about the popularity of impeachment.
But a few clear findings do emerge: First, public opposition to impeachment generally outweighs support, to at least a modest degree. Second, support for impeachment shows no signs of ebbing. And third, it has the backing of most Democrats ― although many would still rather that presidential hopefuls spend their time talking about issues like health care.
How You Ask About Impeachment Matters
The problem with nailing down public opinion on impeachment isn’t a shortage of polling; it’s that the results are all over the place. In a review of seven of the polls taken this month, support for impeachment ranges from 27% in an NBC/Wall Street Journal survey, to 50% in a Fox News poll.
Both those results come from well-regarded national surveys taken by a bipartisan team of pollsters, and using similar methodology. There are a few differences: Fox polled registered voters, while the NBC/WSJ poll was of all adults; Fox’s question also came immediately following a question about whether or not the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russian government in 2016. Possibly the biggest difference, however, has to do with the answer choices respondents were given.
Here’s how Fox phrased the question:
And here’s how NBC/WSJ put it:
Neither approach is more clearly correct. But the differences demonstrate how malleable opinions on the questions are, especially since people don’t necessarily have a clear idea of what impeachment entails. When the choice is framed as immediate impeachment on one side, nothing on the other, and further investigation in between, a significant share of people will go with the middle option; when “impeachment” is the middle option between “impeachment and removal” and nothing, it may look more appealing.
There are plenty of other variations to the ways outlets ask about impeachment, from whether they mention Congress to whether or not they give respondents an explicit option to say that they aren’t really sure, all of which probably adds to the variability in responses.
Is Support For Impeachment Growing?
Polling also varies considerably on whether support for impeachment is growing or not. (Notably there’s nothing to suggest support for Trump’s impeachment is measurably shrinking.)
The NBC/WSJ poll noted a 10-point rise in support from the past month for immediately beginning impeachment, due almost entirely to an 18-point jump in support among Democrats. Politico/Morning Consult polling found an 8-point increase among Democrats between April and June. A tracking poll from the Democratic pollster Civiqs also found a more modest uptick within the past month among both Democrats and independents, although the change was well within the bounds of past surveys and may already be wearing down.
“While there hasn’t been a huge surge in support for impeachment over the past few months, we have seen a steady drumbeat across a number of data points that show impeachment is gaining even more support among Democrats,” noted Morning Consult’s vice president, Tyler Sinclair.
Others, however, suggest less change. HuffPost/YouGov polls taken in late May and in mid-June found similar levels of support for impeachment both times (between 38% and 41%), with opposition remaining consistent at 42%.
And a new Monmouth University survey found that views on impeachment had remained within the same 6-point range since the summer of 2017, making it just one of a plethora of metrics for gauging opinions of Trump to show very little substantive change.
“We asked ten different trend questions about Donald Trump and nothing has really moved. We could have just done a cut and paste with the numbers from any other poll and got pretty much the same result on each of these questions,” Patrick Murray, Monmouth’s polling director, noted in the survey’s release.
Democrats Want Impeachment, But It’s Not Their Top Focus
If Americans’ overall opinions on impeachment aren’t entirely clear, Democrats’ positions are far less hazy. Across eight polls taken since the beginning of June, between 62% and 85% of Democrats expressed support for impeachment.
Roughly 6 in 10 of those Democrats who back impeachment in the HuffPost/YouGov poll say it’s very important to them that Democratic House members work to impeach Trump.
Democrats also have a somewhat inflated idea of party leaders’ support for impeachment: a majority think that most House Democrats support impeachment (it’s currently closer to about one-third of the Democratic caucus). Only 19%, however, believe the proposal has near-universal support.
Some Democrats are willing to pursue that goal regardless of political consideration. When the progressive activist group Indivisible asked its members and others on their email list for their thoughts on impeachment, the responses they got “largely centered on moral arguments,” the group reported, with common sentiments including the idea that “It is the morally right thing to do to impeach him, even if it costs Democrats politically.”
Other proponents argue that pursuing impeachment would actually help Democrats politically.
“[P]olling can change,” wrote Adam Jentleson, the former deputy chief of staff to former Senate majority leader Harry Reid, citing Richard Nixon’s falling ratings throughout the impeachment process. “The void that House Democrats are ceding to Trump is the space between now and election day. Filling that space with easy messages like health care is not a viable option. And a good rule of thumb of politics is that if you have the power to do something that hurts your opponent, you should do it.”
For now, at least, most Democrats would still rather hear about health care.
In another recent HuffPost/YouGov survey, conducted June 18-19, only 18% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said impeachment was among their top three issues for next year’s primary, making it a distant also-ran to health care, as well as topics like the environment and gun control. They were about equally as likely to say presidential candidates should spend less time talking about impeachment (21%) as they were to say the candidates should give the issue more time (23%).
And in a CBS/YouGov poll of early primary states, Democratic voters said more than two-to-one that they’d prefer to hear their candidates spend more time talking about trying to defeat Trump, rather than on impeaching him.