GOP, Independent Voters Set High Bar for Impeachment

GOP, Independent Voters Set High Bar for Impeachment
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Second in a two-part series

In July 2016, Donald Trump trailed Hillary Clinton by as many as 10 percentage points in general election polling, and some pundits began to wonder if the GOP would consider abandoning him for a more palatable nominee. Such speculation turned out to be baseless; as an earlier RealClearPolitics article noted, Republican voters were broadly opposed to replacing Trump on the ticket, even if he were to fall 20 points behind Clinton.

Lately, some commentators are again suggesting that enthusiasm for President Trump is waning among his supporters. Pointing to a Quinnipiac University poll that pegged the president’s approval rating at 33 percent, CNN political director David Chalian argued that “significant cracks” had appeared among Trump’s base. With the investigation run by Special Counsel Robert Mueller looming over the administration, some in Washington are undoubtedly wondering whether Trump’s support could erode enough for the president to be removed from office.

However, polling data from the most recent iteration of the YouGov Recontact Survey – where 5,000 respondents were interviewed 16 times over the course of the election and re-interviewed in late July/early August of this year -- suggests that Trump has little reason to worry at the moment. Despite extensive media coverage of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, few GOP voters are convinced that the allegations rise to the level of an impeachable offense.

The re-contact survey asked 682 Republicans, “In your opinion, which of the following actions would constitute an impeachable offense if committed by President Trump (select all that apply).”

--Covering up ties between the Trump presidential campaign and Russian agents.

--Collaborating with Russian agents to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.

--Taking money from foreigners trying to influence the U.S government.

--None of the above.

Figure 2 shows that only 23 percent of Republicans surveyed thought Trump should be impeached if he personally engaged in a coverup of Russian ties. Likewise, only 34 percent thought Trump should be impeached if he collaborated with Russian agents himself. It is therefore unsurprising that only 8 percent of Republican believe Trump deserves to be impeached now. Republicans simply do not seem to be particularly troubled by the Russia probe.

Interestingly, Independents also do not appear to be overly concerned with the Russia investigation. Less than half of Independents (45 percent) believe that a coverup would warrant impeachment, and even explicit collusion would convince only 53 percent of Independents that Trump needed to be removed from office. Consequently, most Independents (59 percent) agree with the Republican consensus that the present allegations against Trump do not warrant impeachment.

Democrats on the other hand, are anxious to kick Trump out. About three-quarters of them believe that collusion with the Russians, or any coverup of Trump campaign ties to Russia, would constitute an impeachable offense. Given liberals’ antipathy towards the administration, it was no surprise that 81 percent of Democrats believe Trump’s should be removed from the presidency.

These numbers have two important implications. First, it seems unlikely that the current Russia allegations could result in Trump’s impeachment. If two-thirds of Republicans would continue to back Trump regardless of what comes out of the Mueller probe, most House Republicans will never feel sufficiently protected from potential primary challengers to risk initiating impeachment proceedings. As Ross Douthat noted in the New York Times, “impeachment is political, not legal,” and GOP House members are unlikely to go after Trump until political conditions make it safe to do so.

Second, given these data, it seems that congressional Democrats have little to gain right now by focusing their energies on the Russia investigation. The issue is not a clear winner among Independents and seems unlikely to cause many Republicans to turn against Trump; while further revelations on the subject would not be particularly advantageous to the administration, they seem unlikely to end Trump’s presidency.

Nevertheless, the opinions of Independents on impeachment merit continued attention. Although such action seems out of reach as long as Republicans remain supportive of Trump -- and in control of the Congress -- broader support for impeachment among Independents could hinder the GOP’s midterm efforts. Allegations that Trump is receiving foreign payments through his hotels might be particularly damaging: 56 percent of Independents and 43 percent of Republicans say Trump should be impeached if he is taking money from foreigners trying to exert influence in the U.S.

Could that prove to be the president’s Achilles’ heel?

David Brady is a professor of political science at Stanford University and the Davies Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Brett Parker is a JD/PhD student at Stanford University.

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