Support for Impeachment is Rising

By Sean McElwee (@SeanMcElwee) and John Ray (@johnlray)

Before Democrats began impeachment proceedings last week, the conventional wisdom among pundits was that it would harm the re-election prospects of swing seat Democrats who won elections in districts Trump won. Our latest polling suggests the conventional wisdom is wrong. Last week, using polling from before the Ukraine scandal, we made the case that the evidence of the impact of an impeachment inquiry in either direction was murky. Now, we have evidence suggesting that voters are supportive of an impeachment inquiry given the facts of Ukraine and that opposing an inquiry is unlikely to bolster a Democratic candidate’s re-election prospects. Notably, we present evidence that a majority of voters now support an impeachment inquiry, even when given counter-arguments against an inquiry. Overall, support for an impeachment inquiry has risen about 7 points since the end of August.

On behalf of Data for Progress, YouGov Blue fielded a national survey from 9/27/19-9/30/19 on a representative sample of 1,009 US voters. The sample was weighted to be representative of the population of US voters by age, race/ethnicity, sex, education, US Census region, and 2016 Presidential vote choice. On that survey, YouGov Blue included items pertaining to a possible impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump. Here, we report on those findings. Democrats are fully onboard with impeachment. Independents are statistically split. Perhaps surprisingly, just over one in ten Republicans supports the impeachment inquiry.

Impeachment topline

The survey included several items relevant to the question of impeachment. First, we included a direct ask: We caught voters up on the current events that had led to the impeachment inquiry, and then asked voters if they supported the inquiry. The item read:

“New evidence, including a whistleblower complaint and the transcript of a phone call between US President Donald Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, suggest that Trump withheld U.S. military aid in order to pressure Ukraine to investigate the family of his political opponent, Joe Biden.

“Some say this new evidence constitutes grounds for opening an impeachment inquiry.

“Others say such an inquiry would be nothing more than another political witch hunt, and that President Trump was encouraging international anti-corruption efforts as his predecessors have done.

“Do you [support or oppose] opening an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump?”

By a 51-41 margin, voters support an impeachment inquiry. Notably, in a shift from our August survey, strong support is higher than strong opposition. 

 
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As might be expected, impeachment is a polarizing subject. While 86 percent of Democrats support the impeachment inquiry, with just 8 percent opposing it, 83 percent of Republicans oppose the inquiry, with 11 percent supporting it. This 8 percent and 11 percent are not statistically distinguishable from one another. While we hear talk that impeachment is divisive among Democrats, the reality is that if anything it is slightly more so among Republicans.

In a recent August survey, we asked about an impeachment inquiry using the relevant framing for that period, which centered around the Mueller investigation. The previous wording read

“The Constitution gives Congress the power to impeach a president for offenses that are considered disqualifying of the office.

“Congress is considering beginning an impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump due to multiple attempts to interfere in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, which legal scholars say may constitute obstruction of justice.

“Do you [support or oppose] the House of Representatives starting an impeachment inquiry against the President?”

Notably, this framing is somewhat more positive about impeachment as it doesn’t include an argument against impeachment. Since then, respondents of all party identifications have moved in favor of the inquiry. As Democrats work to message, organize, and build support around the inquiry, these numbers are likely to continue to move.

Crucially, support for the impeachment inquiry has grown by 7 percentage points among Independents in the few weeks since our last survey on the subject. About 44 percent of Independents now support the inquiry, a statistical tie with the 47 percent of Independents that oppose it. Opposition to the inquiry has fallen among Independents by almost 7 points as well -- in other words, much of the movement has come from the share of active opposition to the inquiry dropping, rather than voters who were once unsure now choosing a side.

 
 

The chart below shows the shifts among different groups of voters. 

 
impeach_change.png
 

To further test how impeachment might play for individual candidates, we used a survey experiment designed to simulate a campaign, including candidate platforms and explicit reference to the partisan identity of the candidates. In the experiment, we randomly assigned voters to evaluate a Democrat who was either for the impeachment inquiry or against the impeachment inquiry, in comparison to a Republican. The Democratic positions read either,

“The Democrat voted for reforms to make it easier to vote, for gun control legislation, and for an impeachment inquiry into President Trump's behavior in office.”

Or

“The Democrat voted for reforms to make it easier to vote, for gun control legislation, and against an impeachment inquiry into President Trump's behavior in office.”

The Republican statement in both conditions read,

“The Republican voted against reforms to make it easier to vote, against gun control legislation, and against an impeachment inquiry into President Trump's behavior in office.”

Voters were then asked whether they would support the Democrat or the Republican in a hypothetical matchup. We did not find any significant differences for the Democrat whether or not they supported impeachment. In each case, the generic ballot advantage for Democrats that we’ve observed pretty much uninterrupted continues to hold: 53 percent of voters would prefer the Democrat who supported impeachment and 50 percent would prefer the Democrat who did not, a difference that does not reach traditional levels of statistical significance among 1,000 voters, but is suggestive of a positive shift. 

 
 

When broken out by party identification, we see the experiment had virtually no effect among Democrats or Republicans. While “true Independents” (i.e., those who do not report leaning to either party) appear to shift against Democrats in the impeachment condition, our survey included only 105 true Independents and so we caution against over-interpretation of that result. Overall, Independents currently report they are about split on the impeachment inquiry.

 
 

We find increasingly strong evidence that impeachment will not harm Democrats in the upcoming midterms. As the scandals continue to multiply and unfold, and Republicans continue to mount a defense of the administration, we should expect to see further movement on impeachment and on its anticipated effects on the 2020 election.


Sean McElwee (@SeanMcElwee) is a co-founder of Data for Progress.

John Ray (@johnlray) John Ray is a Senior Political Analyst at YouGov Blue. Reach out to him with polling questions at john dot ray at yougov dot com.

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