Impeachment Coverage Has Surged as Public Interest Wanes

Impeachment Coverage Has Surged as Public Interest Wanes
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Impeachment Coverage Has Surged as Public Interest Wanes
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
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The Democratic clamor for presidential impeachment seems to be growing by the day. The topic became front-page news again this week with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s statement that President Trump “engaged in a coverup” regarding the Russian collusion investigation. Looking closely, we see that media coverage of impeachment ticked up shortly after Trump’s election and really took off in the aftermath of his firing of FBI Director James Comey in May 2017, accelerating steadily over the last two years. Meanwhile, web searches about impeachment seem to have largely faded.

The timeline below shows the percentage of airtime on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News that mentioned “impeachment” or “impeachable” or “impeached” or “impeach,” using data from the Internet Archive’s Television News Archive processed by the GDELT Project.

The topic of impeachment appears to have drawn little attention from the three cable channels until late 2013 when the immigration battle between then-President Obama and congressional Republicans intensified. Impeachment leapt into the headlines in July 2014 when White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer offered, “I think Speaker Boehner …  has opened the door to Republicans possibly considering impeachment at some point in the future.”

In the absence of Republican action, coverage quickly died off.

With Trump’s November 2016 election, the topic began to creep back into the media narrative, surging amid growing allegations of Russian electoral interference and investigations into possible collusion by the Trump campaign.

The drumbeat has largely continued unabated, though this month saw a slight decline.

In 2013-2014 it was MSNBC that mentioned impeachment the most, covering it twice as much as Fox News and almost eight times as much as CNN. In the Trump era, all three stations have covered the topic roughly equally, until last month when MSNBC focused on impeachment almost as much as the other two channels combined.

This media interest in impeachment doesn’t appear to be matched by public interest. The timeline below shows U.S. web-search interest in the topic, according to Google Trends compared with the combined interest of the three cable channels. Since the two datasets use different scales, the graph below reports them as standard deviations from the mean (Z-scores).

Here it seems impeachment interest, as measured by web searches, surged almost immediately upon Trump’s election and accelerated through his May 2017 firing of Comey but has steadily decreased since.

Notably, the trend line does not coincide with the media coverage, suggesting the American public is less obsessed with the topic than the Washington political class.

In the end, it seems the public has largely moved on from the topic, suggesting they may not share Washington’s apparent enthusiasm for another impeachment trial.

RealClear Media Fellow Kalev Leetaru is a senior fellow at the George Washington University Center for Cyber & Homeland Security. His past roles include fellow in residence at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Government.

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