Half, 50%, say they don’t feel that Trump ought to be impeached and removed from office, while 43% say he should be. Support for impeachment has dipped some since September, when 47% favored it, and is about the same as in a June poll (42% favored it then). Support for impeachment of Trump remains higher than it was for each of the last three presidents at any time it was asked. It’s on par with President Richard Nixon, who 43% of Americans said should be impeached and removed from office in a March 1974 Harris poll.
The shift on impeachment comes mostly from political independents. In September, they were evenly split on the question, with 48% behind impeachment and 47% opposed. Now, 36% favor impeachment and 55% are opposed.
From 47/48 three months ago to 43/50 now, even though both Mueller and the Manhattan U.S. Attorney have pinched Trump’s former right-hand man, Michael Cohen, on various crimes in the interim. How to explain it? Three theories.
1. It’s statistical noise. The margin of error in the new poll is 3.8 points. Maybe nothing has actually changed — broad public opinion on impeachment is still evenly split and CNN’s sample randomly captured a few more voters who oppose the idea. If that’s true, though, then how to explain the sharp decline among independents, from +1 three months ago on impeachment to -19(!) now? The margin of error for the independent subgroup is 5.7 points, meaning that the decline in support within that group is not noise. Indies really have grown more lukewarm on impeachment. A lot more, apparently.
2. There’s been a backlash to the Cohen follies. This is Moran’s theory, that as “Russian collusion hysteria” has been replaced by “Michael Cohen hysteria” the public has adjusted its views of impeachment accordingly. Impeach Trump if there’s proof that he conspired with the Kremlin to influence the election? Sure. Impeach Trump because his sleazy lawyer engineered a few mistress payoffs for him and then they hid it from the FEC? Nah.
Plus, the more that non-Russiagate criminal investigations mushroom around Trump, the more his “witch hunt” cry may resonate. Investigating him and his campaign for possibly plotting with Putin is one thing, investigating his campaign and his business and his private life and on and on and on, with various federal and state prosecutors all digging through his trash and Democrats vowing to subpoena everyone and everything, makes it look like the establishment is out to take him down by hook or by crook. An interesting detail from today’s poll: Although nonwhite voters strongly supported impeachment in September, 66/29, their support has dwindled to 50/34 now. That’s outside the margin of error of 7.0 points, suggesting that this change is meaningful too. Maybe there’s a small but growing perception that Trump is being persecuted by the system. Many Americans know the feeling.
3. The midterms changed everything. It could be that impeachment was little more than a fun comforting hypothetical for anti-Trumpers circa September, when the outcome of the midterms was still in doubt. Now that Democrats are in a position to actually do it, the magnitude of the act may be weighing on some Trump critics such that they’re having second thoughts. I’ve seen polls in other contexts, like abortion, that show independents shifting their policy preferences in reaction to a meaningful handover of power within the federal government. For instance, when there’s a Democrat in the White House, some indies seem to “correct” for it by turning a bit more pro-life; when a Republican takes over, indies may tilt a bit further pro-choice. Could be that the same thing’s happening here with impeachment: Indies who were happy to give Democrats the green light before they took power are giving them a yellow light now, urging caution and careful deliberation before taking such a momentous step. Interestingly, Democratic voters themselves aren’t more gun-shy about impeachment now that their team has taken over the House. They were 78/16 in favor in September and are 80/12 in favor now. Independents are the ones putting the brakes on.
The clear takeaway here, though, is that America’s not going to look warmly on Dems trying to oust Trump for anything Stormy- or McDougal-related. Even if they tried, a poll like this would give Senate Republicans all the reason they needed to vote against removal. And an impeachment that’s doomed to fail isn’t an impeachment that Pelosi is going to undertake.