How can that be? Those two trends in CNN polling would appear to be at least somewhat contradictory, but that neglects the impact of the magic elixir of American politics — partisanship. For the first time in CNN’s series on impeachment, support for Donald Trump’s removal from office has hit 50%, at the same time his approval rating has jumped to its highest level since June:
Half of Americans say President Donald Trump should be impeached and removed from office, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS, a new high in CNN polling on the topic and the first time that support for impeachment and removal has significantly outpaced opposition.
As support for impeachment has inched upward, however, Trump’s approval ratings overall and for handling major issues have not taken a hit. Overall, 41% approve of his handling of the presidency and 57% disapprove, similar to his ratings in early September and August polls conducted before the House of Representatives formally launched an impeachment inquiry in late September.
Confused? It gets better … or worse, depending on your sense of humor:
The share who say Trump used his office improperly to gain political advantage against a potential 2020 opponent in his interactions with the President of Ukraine stands at 49%, about the same as in the September CNN poll. At the same time, more now say Trump did not use the presidency improperly (43%, up from 39%), as the share who are undecided on the question dipped. That shift was largely driven by a 16-point increase in the share of Republicans who say Trump didn’t improperly use the presidency (from 71% to 87%).
That partisanship would explain some of the hardening on Trump support. As Republicans dig in for a long impeachment fight, they will need to argue both that impeachment is illegitimate and that Trump is doing a good job as president. A peek through the issue ratings shows that to be a hit-or-miss affair, though. Trump is back up to 52% approval on the economy, his best showing since May, even though there hasn’t been any sharp economic catalyst for that improvement. The same goes for handling of foreign trade (43%, best in a year), but not at all for foreign affairs, likely due to Ukraine-Gate’s revelations.
Partisanship explains a lot of the rise in support for removal, too. CNN has been polling on the impeach-and-remove question all year, and the increase here is significant. It started at 36% in March, more of a fringe impulse, but has gone up thirteen points in six months. That might be in large part because support among Democrats has gone up from 68% in that poll to 87% in this one, a jump of 19 points in this demo. Independents now support it 50/42 as well, but that might also be explained by Democratic-leaning indies coming home to that position (87/8, up from 66/29 in March).
Still, that partisan hardening of the trench lines has an impact that goes beyond those demos. The only demos that don’t support it, besides the partisan demos, are 35-49 year olds (43/50) and white non-college grads (35/58). It may not be a dominant impulse, but it’s not fringe any more either. The corrosive partisanship around this question has not gone unnoticed, either; neither political party gets off the hook for their handling of the issue. Voters widely disapprove of how Republicans in Congress have dealt with the impeachment inquiry (30/57), but Americans aren’t too happy with Democrats either (43/49). Among independents, disgust is a more bipartisan affair; they disapprove of Republican handling 31/56 and Democratic handling 37/51.
Given how these numbers have risen over the last six months, one has to wonder whether they have hit their natural ceiling. Democrats are now nearly all-in on impeachment and Republicans are all-in opposing it. Unless something significant breaks in this issue, such as a real smoking gun against Trump or a Muellermas-style collapse in the Democrats’ narrative, it’s tough to see this changing much. This won’t be nearly enough popular consensus to convince the Senate to take the historic step of removing a duly elected president from office, which leaves us pretty much in the same position as in 1998, in which impeachment becomes a censure, and everyone is left unhappy in the end.