A deeper dive into one poll shows what Americans really think about impeachment
Ever since his inauguration, President Trump’s political opponents have been pushing to impeach him. They just hadn’t found the right excuse. In other words, they knew where they wanted to end up but they just hadn’t found the right vehicle to drive them down the road.
With the fuss over Ukraine, they may have found their vehicle, according to new polls.
Or have they?
The latest CBS News poll headlined the findings that “Majority of Americans favor an impeachment inquiry into President Trump,” 55 percent to 45 percent.
But what if there’s more than meets the eye? Like many polls, there is plenty of fodder within the CBS News poll results to support either side. The trick is who does the reporting and which points they select to highlight.
What if it turns out there are many other headlines — and statistics — that could have been chosen from the same poll, ones that give an entirely different take on the situation?
Here’s one of them: “Majority of Americans in Democrat-heavy poll favor an impeachment inquiry into President Trump.”
Wouldn’t most Americans looking for unbiased information want the context that the poll interviewed more Democrats than Republicans?
A check of the poll data shows it interviewed 124 more Democrats than Republicans. That’s a statistically significant difference — 6 percentage points more Democrats than Republicans. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that Democrats and Republicans generally respond along party lines, a sample that looked at 6 percentage points more Republicans instead of Democrats would blow the “headline” that “a majority of Americans” favors the impeachment inquiry. It would, theoretically, change the pro-impeachment inquiry majority to a minority: 49 percent favoring the impeachment inquiry, and 51 percent opposing.
Here are several other points of context that some might find worth mentioning — though few did so in their reporting.
The CBS poll shows 58 percent say Trump does not deserve to be impeached or that it’s “too soon to say.” Using the same math as above, adjust that for the lopsided number of Democrats interviewed and it would theoretically become 64 percent believing that Trump doesn’t deserve impeachment or it’s too soon to know.
Then, 69 percent of Republicans who were asked about an impeachment inquiry say it makes them want to defend Trump. In other words, there is reason to believe the inquiry could be a motivational factor for Republicans in an election year — in a way that benefits Trump.
The CBS News poll of the Democrat-heavy sample showed that 34 percent said an impeachment inquiry during the 2020 campaign will be “better for Democrats,” while 30 percent said it would be “better for Trump.” But had the poll interviewed 6 percentage points more Republicans instead of Democrats, that number theoretically could tilt in favor of Trump’s interest, 36 percent to 28 percent.
And, lastly, a majority of those asked — as well as a majority each of Democrats, Republicans and independents — said they think the primary goal of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry is to “politically damage Donald Trump’s presidency and his reelection.”
To summarize, a deep-dive into the poll stats suggests numerous other headlines could be appropriate:
“Majority of Americans in Democrat-heavy poll says Trump does not deserve to be impeached or it’s ‘too soon’ to say.”
“Most Republicans say impeachment inquiry makes them want to defend Trump.”
“Most Americans, including Democrats, say main goal of impeachment inquiry is to politically damage Donald Trump’s presidency and reelection.”
None of this is to suggest there isn’t a negative trend line for President Trump, or that any poll should be reported in a one-sided fashion on behalf of either interest. But I think we already are seeing the continuation of a trend that proved problematic in 2015 and 2016: polls being used to try to shape public opinion, rather than to measure it.
We in the media promised to self-correct after making so many mistakes covering the 2016 campaign. But it’s starting to look like we’re traveling the same path as we head toward 2020.
Sharyl Attkisson is an Emmy Award-winning investigative journalist, author of The New York Times best-sellers “The Smear” and “Stonewalled,” and host of Sinclair’s Sunday TV program “Full Measure.” Follow her on Twitter @SharylAttkisson.
Editor’s note: This article was corrected from an earlier version.