Voters evenly split on whether Trump's Ukraine actions amount to 'impeachable offense'

Americans are evenly split on whether President TrumpDonald John TrumpMnuchin knocks Greta Thunberg's activism: Study economics and then 'come back' to us The Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' What to watch for on Day 3 of Senate impeachment trial MORE’s actions encouraging his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' What to watch for on Day 3 of Senate impeachment trial Sanders wants one-on-one fight with Biden MORE amount to an impeachable offense, according to a Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll survey released Thursday.

Fifty percent said pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open an investigation into Biden, the Democratic front-runner to challenge Trump in 2020, would be an impeachable offense. An equal amount disagreed.

Twenty-two percent of Republicans considered such actions an impeachable offense.

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A slight majority — 53 percent — said Trump's remarks to Zelensky about investigating Biden appeared more like an effort to damage the former vice president politically than to uncover any wrongdoing. Even more — 58 percent — said it was inappropriate for Trump to make a request about an investigation.

That request is at the center of a fast-moving controversy in Washington that poses perhaps the most significant threat to Trump’s presidency to date. House Democrats moved this week to launch a formal impeachment inquiry into the president’s actions, namely whether he sought to use the power of his office to compel Ukrainian officials to open a potential corruption probe into Biden and his son Hunter.

A memorandum of a July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky released on Wednesday shows that Trump urged his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate the Bidens. He also told Zelensky that he would have his personal attorney, Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiThe Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' What to watch for on Day 3 of Senate impeachment trial 'Emotion' from Trump's legal team wins presidential plaudits MORE, and U.S. Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrLawmaker wants Chinese news outlet to register as foreign agent The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Barr wrote 2018 memo contradicting Trump's claim that abuse of power is not impeachable MORE contact him about the matter.

Giuliani has played a leading role in the effort to persuade Ukrainian officials to investigate the Bidens. A majority of voters – 56 percent – said it was inappropriate for Giuliani to pursue such a matter, according to the new Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll survey.

A whistleblower complaint made by an unidentified member of the U.S. intelligence community also alleges that White House officials sought to “lock down” records of that phone call after they became aware that Trump had pressed Zelensky on the potential investigation into Biden.

The Trump campaign dismissed the whistleblower complaint on Thursday, calling it a “hoax” authored by a “partisan bureaucrat.”

The Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll found that voters were split on their perceptions of the complaint, with 50 percent saying the whistleblower was trying to expose a real problem, while the other half said the individual was “playing politics to hurt Trump.”

There was some variance in the share of voters who believe Trump’s actions amount to an impeachable offense, depending on how the question is phrased.

When respondents were asked whether “just asking the president of Ukraine for help in investigating” Biden and his son is impeachable conduct, 45 percent said it was. But when asked whether “pressuring the president of Ukraine for help in investigating” the Bidens is an impeachable offense, that number climbed to 50 percent.

“The poll shows that the public has serious concern over the Trump actions, with 50 percent favoring impeachment if he ‘pressured’ the Ukrainian leader but only 45 percent if he just ‘asked’ for the investigation,” Mark PennMark PennEnd impeachment's government shutdown Poll: Majority say IG report revealed pattern of misjudgment by FBI Poll: Biden holds double-digit lead over 2020 Democratic rivals MORE, the co-director of the Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll, said.

“These are generally higher numbers than during the Mueller investigation and most consider his actions inappropriate even if not impeachable,” Penn added, referring to former special counsel Robert Muller’s probe into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russian officials to influence the results of the 2016 presidential election.

Trump has dismissed concerns about his interactions with the Ukrainian president, arguing there was nothing inappropriate about the phone call. He has also said that he had requested the investigation into the Bidens out of genuine concern about corruption in Ukraine.

The Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll surveyed 1,005 registered voters from Sept. 22-24. The poll is a collaboration of the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard University and The Harris Poll. The Hill will be working with Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll throughout 2019.

Full poll results will be posted online later this week. The Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll survey is an online sample drawn from the Harris Panel and weighted to reflect known demographics. As a representative online sample, it does not report a probability confidence interval.