Independents warm to impeachment

Independents warm to impeachment
© Greg Nash

New polls are finding independent voters increasingly supportive of impeachment, the latest sign of trouble for President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment Trump appears to set personal record for tweets in a day MORE as he struggles to defend himself only 13 months out from Election Day.

The latest Quinnipiac University survey found overall support for House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry reaching its highest level yet, at 55 percent, up 4 points from last week. The change was almost entirely driven by a 16-point swing in favor of the investigation among self-described independents.

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And by a 49 percent to 41 percent margin, independents in the poll said Trump should be impeached and removed from office, a dramatic 14-point shift over last week, when independents opposed removal 48 percent to 46 percent.

A recent CNN-SSRS survey backs up the trend, with support for impeachment and removal among independents jumping from 34 percent to 50 percent, a 16-point swing in the month since Democrats launched their inquiry.

According to the FiveThirtyEight average, support for impeachment among independents is at its highest level ever, 48.4 percent, up 14.5 points in 30 days amid the flood of revelations about Trump allegedly withholding aid from Ukraine in an effort to pressure the country to open an investigation into a political rival.

Those results have Democrats cautiously optimistic that their message on impeachment is resonating and potentially setting their eventual nominee up to land the knockout blow against Trump in the general election next year.

“The message discipline has been great so far,” said Kelly Dietrich, the founder of the National Democratic Training Committee. “Now we need to build off the momentum we have among independents on impeachment and sell them on our message about how we intend to improve people’s lives when it comes to health care and the economy.”

But not all Democrats are convinced the impeachment process is helping them.

Some remain deeply skeptical that the Ukraine controversy will punch through among ordinary Americans, believing that impeachment does not register as a top issue and that Trump has weathered countless other controversies with his base of support fully intact.

Trump won the 2016 election after late-breaking independent voters in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania decided to give him a shot. A Marquette University survey of Wisconsin voters released Wednesday found that only 35 percent of independents believe the impeachment hearings are justified, against 53 percent who said they are not.

“Show me the poll where impeachment registers as a top 15 issue for any voter,” said one Democratic pollster.

“Republicans in Congress are never going to break with Trump to convict him. Period. It’s not going to happen,” the pollster said. “And there’s this assumption that this will hurt Trump’s reelection efforts, but keep in mind how many outrageous events we’ve witnessed over the past four years where people were just as certain it would doom him. This is why his presidency is so infuriating. It’s impossible to fathom how he’s still standing.”

Still, the president’s supporters are growing concerned that the White House response to the House impeachment inquiry has been insufficient in the face of the united front from Democrats.

There is frustration at the White House’s refusal to launch an impeachment “war room” and pressure for the administration to bring in a chief strategist to work with GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill and act as a rapid-response messaging team.

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Trump’s allies say the lack of a coordinated message or plan of defense has driven public opinion in favor of impeachment, and there are growing concerns about what this means for the president as he seeks to convince undecided voters in battleground states to give him a second term in office.

“[Democrats are running] a professional operation, this is like a blitzkrieg they’re running — bang, bang, bang, every day, and the process is winning,” said former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, who launched a podcast this week to fight back against impeachment. “How do we know the process is winning? Look at the poll numbers. Look at independents.”

Still, some Trump allies see a glimmer of hope: Republicans surveyed in recent polls appear to be sticking with Trump against impeachment, at least for now.

As recently as a few weeks ago, it looked like the tide may be shifting against Trump, with GOP support for impeachment inching past 15 percent in the FiveThirtyEight average.

That number has since settled back in the 12 percent range, and the latest CNN poll found only 6 percent of Republicans back impeachment and removal, a 9-point drop from the previous month.

House Republicans are fiercely defending Trump, and while there are problem spots for him in the Senate, there has not been a stampede against him.

“People should remember, Nixon collapsed and was about to be impeached and removed because a majority of Republican voters flipped on him,” said one former White House official.

“And people forget: When Clinton was impeached, there were something like 20 Democrats who voted to launch the inquiry. There was much more bipartisan agreement in those cases. We’re nowhere close to that right now.”

But it has been a chaotic few weeks for Trump, who has been besieged by controversies on multiple fronts, from his decision to withdraw troops from Syria to a diplomat who testified to the president’s involvement in a quid pro quo with Ukraine.

Trump’s job approval rating has stuck in the low 40s range for most of his presidency but has dipped from 45 percent last month to 42 percent now in the RealClearPolitics average.

That includes a dip from 41 percent in the Quinnipiac poll last week to 38 percent presently, Trump’s first slip below 40 percent in the survey since the impeachment inquiry began.

“We’ve now reached the point where opinions on impeachment and removal are pretty well correlated with overall approval of the president’s job performance. This includes left-leaning independents who now support impeachment and removal,” said Chris Wilson, a GOP pollster and president of WPA Intelligence.

“This is a shift from where things stood pre-Ukraine, but doesn’t really show much of a shift from where things were once that news was fully digested. It will take a lot bigger of a move either with independents, which would be evidence that right-leaning independents were beginning to shift, or among Republicans to change the fundamental political calculus surrounding impeachment, which is that the House probably has the votes to impeach the president … but the Senate is highly unlikely to remove him.”