Independents souring on impeachment underscores risk for Democrats
New public opinion polls are moving against Democrats on impeachment as independents sour on the House inquiry and increasingly express opposition to the hearings that have consumed Washington in recent weeks.
The new data comes as a surprise to Democrats, many of whom believe witnesses have offered damning testimony about President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
Witnesses have testified that Trump pressed Ukraine’s leaders to conduct investigations of the energy company Burisma Holdings — which was seen as code for probes of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, given the younger Biden’s work for the company as a board member.
There has also been testimony that security aid for Ukraine was delayed to put more pressure on that country’s government. Other witnesses have castigated Trump for pursuing conspiracy theories that Ukraine and not Russia was a major player in electoral interference in 2016.
An impeachment vote in the House seems inevitable, but it does not appear that any GOP lawmakers will back an article of impeachment. And it remains to be seen whether voters will support the Democratic action or punish the party for going forward with impeachment.
“There’s always a disconnect between Washington and what people are thinking out in the states,” said Dick Harpootlian, the former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party and a surrogate for former Joe Biden’s presidential campaign.
And Democrats have some worries about impeachment fatigue.
“After three years, the country was sick of hearing about Russia, and now the average American either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care about the case we’re making on Ukraine,” said one Democratic fundraiser.
According to the FiveThirtyEight average of national polls, support for impeachment has shrunk from 50.3 percent in mid-October to 46.3 percent presently, while opposition has risen from 43.8 percent to 45.6 percent.
Among independents in the FiveThirtyEight average, support for impeachment topped out at 47.7 percent in late October but has sunk to 41 percent over the past three weeks.
YouGov is among the polls registering that decline, with independent support for impeachment dropping from 39 percent earlier this month to 35 percent now and opposition increasing from 35 percent to 40 percent.
An Emerson University survey found an even more extreme flip among independents.
In October, independents supported impeachment 48 percent to 35 percent in Emerson’s polling. In the new poll released this week, independents opposed it by a 49 percent to 34 percent margin. In that time, overall support for impeaching Trump swung from 48 percent in favor and 44 percent against to 45 percent in opposition to impeachment and 43 percent in favor.
The latest Morning Consult survey was the third poll released this week to register a flip among independents. That survey also registered a new low among all voters in favor of impeachment at 48 percent.
But perhaps most alarming for Democrats is a new survey of Wisconsin from Marquette University. In Wisconsin, a key swing state in next year’s election, Marquette found that 40 percent supported impeaching Trump and removing him from office, while 53 percent opposed it. In October, before the hearings began, support was at 44 percent and opposition was at 51 percent.
The Marquette survey found Trump leading in Wisconsin against three top Democratic challengers after trailing all of them in the previous poll.
Support for impeachment among Republicans and independents in the survey was mostly steady, but support among Democrats dropped by 7 points.
Marquette pollster Charles Franklin described the shift as modest and said it could be driven by voters viewing impeachment as an extreme measure. Franklin said that when former Gov. Scott Walker (R) was being recalled in Wisconsin, even some Democrats who despised Walker were conflicted about the recall effort and viewed it as an overreach.
“It was surprising to find that Democrats are a little less supportive of impeachment now. They appear a little less unified in their opposition,” Franklin said. “It moves the race from being a small Democratic lead that was mostly inside the margin of error to a small Trump lead that is mostly inside the margin of error and basically reaffirms Wisconsin’s status as a battleground state.”
The Marquette survey follows a New York Times–Siena College poll that found majorities in the key swing states of Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona and Florida oppose removing the president from office through impeachment. Majorities or pluralities do support an investigation of Trump, however.
“All of these numbers are consistent with other trends that suggest Democrats are losing the impeachment debate, particularly in swing states and districts,” said Chris Wilson, a GOP pollster and president of WPA Intelligence.
“If the hearings have eroded support even slightly, and the national data suggests that, then this Marquette poll is completely in line with an emerging picture where impeachment is actually helping the president in key swing states,” he added.
Many Democrats are unmoved by the new data, believing that they’re doing the right thing and that impeachment will not be their core message heading into the general election anyway. On the campaign trail, the 2020 Democratic White House hopefuls rarely talk about or get asked about impeachment.
Democratic strategist Andrew Feldman pointed to recent elections in Kentucky and Louisiana, two deep-red states where Democrats won contested gubernatorial contests this month, as evidence their economic message is breaking through.
“This is an inside the Beltway conversation that’s dominating news here in Washington but I don’t put much weight in these polls because it’s not what we’re talking about in the communities where real people are concerned about health care, economic inequality and student debt,” Feldman said. “If we lose focus of those issues, we’ll be in trouble, but until then, I’m confident people understand what’s at stake and which party is working to make their lives better.”
But Republicans are crowing, believing that Democrats have made a massive miscalculation on impeachment.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) initially resisted calls for impeachment, worried that it might cost the party hard-won seats in districts that Trump carried in 2016.
“Pelosi didn’t want to do this. … If you are one of those 31 Democrats running in Trump districts, you don’t want to be on the record voting for impeachment,” said one Trump campaign official.
“They are actually making the president out to be a martyr, which is not easy. American voters are a lot smarter than the Washington elites and left-stream media give them credit for. They really are. They have a pretty good BS meter, and they smell BS,” the official added.
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