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Poll: Independents Move In Favor Of Impeachment Inquiry; GOP Stays Firmly Against

Oct 10, 2019
Originally published on October 11, 2019 12:43 pm

A slim majority of Americans now approve of the Democratic House-led impeachment inquiry into President Trump, a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll finds.

Fifty-two percent say they approve of the inquiry, while 43% disapprove. That's a slight increase in support from two weeks ago, when 49% approved and 46% disapproved. The numbers are in line with other polls that have been released this week also showing majority support or an increase in support for the inquiry.

The uptick in support in the NPR poll comes mostly from a swing among independents. In late September, more independents disapproved of the inquiry than approved, by a 50-44% margin. Now, in a reversal, more independents approve of the inquiry than disapprove, by a 54-41% margin, a net change of 19 points.

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On the questions of whether Trump should be impeached or removed from office, Americans are split — 49-47% in favor of impeachment and 48-48% on whether the Senate should vote to remove him.

While Americans' support is growing for the impeachment inquiry and a slim majority (51%) thinks the inquiry is a very serious matter and not "just politics," they are unconvinced impeachment is the right way to decide the future of Trump's presidency.

By a 58-37% margin, Americans think his future should be decided at the ballot box rather than by the impeachment process.

"There's a danger point in this for the White House, but also some danger points for Democrats in Congress, because people are not convinced this is the way to go," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducts the poll.

The survey was conducted from Oct. 3 through Tuesday, Oct. 8. The previous poll from Marist dealing with impeachment was conducted Sept. 25, after the White House released its record of the phone call between Trump and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine, but before the whistleblower complaint was made public.

Republicans firmly against, but Americans don't approve of Trump's behavior

Republicans are dug in against the impeachment inquiry with nearly 9 in 10 disapproving of it. Two-thirds also say they would be less likely to vote for their representative from Congress if that lawmaker votes to impeach Trump.

Despite the lack of enthusiasm for impeachment, Americans clearly don't approve of Trump's recent behavior, don't think he shares Americans' moral values and are pessimistic about the direction the country is headed.

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For example, 68% say it's not acceptable to ask a foreign country's leader for help investigating a potential political opponent; that includes 40% of Republicans. And 61% say Trump does not share the moral values most Americans try to live by; and just 35% say the country is headed in the right direction.

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The moral values question is similar to how Americans viewed former President Bill Clinton in the year he was impeached — 62% said Clinton did not share Americans' moral values, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll from September 1998.

What's more, 59% say the identity of the whistleblower who filed a complaint about Trump's call with Zelenskiy should be protected. That includes 6 in 10 independents and about a third of Republicans.

Other answers in the survey should continue to raise red flags for the president and his reelection campaign team, including that 52% say they will definitely vote against Trump in 2020, and just 42% approve of the job the president is doing.

Those numbers have barely budged and have been consistent throughout Trump's presidency. Part of the reason for the lack of movement, the pollsters say, is the lack of overall trust in institutions that the survey measured.

The courts were the most trusted (58%), followed by the intelligence community, including the CIA and FBI (57%), that elections are fair (51%), Democrats in the U.S. House (41%), the Trump administration (40%), Republicans in the U.S. Senate (39%), Congress (31%), and lastly, the media (29%).

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While 70% of Democrats trust the intelligence community, just 54% of Republicans and independents do. And while 60% of Democrats trust the media, just 8% of Republicans and only a quarter of independents do.

What's more, views of Congress have changed dramatically since the impeachment of Clinton in 1998. Back then, 58% said they thought most members of Congress share the moral values most Americans try to live by, according to the CBS News/New York Times poll.

Today, it's the opposite — just 37% say members of Congress share the moral values of most Americans, while 56% say they don't.

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There's some evidence that Republicans are beginning to check out of news on the controversies surrounding impeachment. In the last survey at the end of September, 80% of Republicans said they were following the news about the impeachment inquiry at least fairly closely. In this poll, that's dropped 12 points, while Democrats and independents have essentially maintained their levels.

That helps to create a dynamic in which the GOP digs in even more.

"We're in a period of time that the institutions that guided us through these processes are not trusted," Barbara Carvalho, director of the Marist Poll said of impeachment during the Clinton and Nixon years. "There's really a lack of trust among those institutions, so that makes this uncharted terrain, because people are being guided by whose side that they think they are on."

Biden, the Ukraine controversy and who impeachment could help or hurt

Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden pauses while speaking at the SEIU Unions for All Summit in Los Angeles last week.
Mario Tama / Getty Images

Trump has continued to accuse former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter of wrongdoing in Ukraine, though evidence does not support those claims. Trump has pointed to the Bidens' "corruption" amid accusations of his own wrongdoing in dealing with the country.

Most people, by a 50%-28% margin, think that effort will hurt Biden. His favorability rating has ticked down slightly from 44% in September to 41% now — within the poll's margin of error.

The controversy has not hurt Biden with Democrats, but there has been a slight eroding with independents and Republicans. In September, Biden had a 72%/20% positive rating from Democrats, and now, it's a near-identical 71%/19%.

Among independents, though, it went from 43%/48% positive to 39%/46%; and among Republicans, it was 21%/72% positive in September and is 16%/74% now.

By a 45-42% margin, Americans say Biden shares their moral values. That's higher than Trump, but clearly the jury is still out, suggesting that Biden's response to the controversy over the next several weeks before the first voting in the Democratic nominating contest will be critical.

Overall, Americans are split 44-43% on whether impeachment will help Democrats or whether it will help Trump.

How impeachment is handled could be crucial in determining who Americans want to put in charge of Congress after 2020 as well. Democrats have just a 3-point advantage, 43-40%, on the question of which party's candidate people would vote for in their district if the elections were held today.

That's half of what it was in November 2018 (50-44%), just as Democrats took back the U.S. House by sweeping a net of 40 seats out of Republican hands in the midterms.


Methodology: The poll of 1,123 Americans was conducted with live telephone Oct. 3 through Oct. 8, 2019. The margin of error for the overall sample is 3.4 percentage points. Party affiliation results reflect the 926 respondents who identified as registered voters, and the margin of error is 3.8 percentage points.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A slim majority of Americans now favor the impeachment inquiry into President Trump. That is the finding of a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, but an even bigger percentage say they think the president's future should be decided at the ballot box rather than through the impeachment process. NPR's senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro is here to talk us through these results.

Hey there, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there. Thanks for having me.

KELLY: Glad to have you here. So a majority now is in favor of the impeachment inquiry. What are the numbers, and how have they changed since the last poll?

MONTANARO: So it's a slight uptick from the last poll a couple of weeks ago. Now 52% of people are saying that they're in favor of the inquiry. Forty-three percent are against it. That's a change from what was 49% approve to 46% disapprove. Largely, that's because of Independents. They've completely flipped. They went from 44% in favor and 50% against to now 54% approving and 41% against. That's a complete reversal, a net 19-point swing.

Now, when it comes to simply asking if people support impeaching Trump or removing him from office, people are more split kind of down the middle, so there's some convincing that Democrats really still need to do to sway those few persuadable people who are out there. But like other polls that have been out this week, support for what Democrats are doing is moving in their direction.

KELLY: Let me follow up on that phrase you just used - few persuadable people...

MONTANARO: Right.

KELLY: ...Who could be won over. That suggests plenty of people have made up their minds where they sit on this.

MONTANARO: Absolutely. I mean, polarization is alive and well. Nine in 10 Democrats say that they're in favor of the inquiry. Nine in 10 Republicans say that they're against it. In fact, two-thirds of Republicans say that they would vote against their own member of Congress if they voted for impeachment of Trump. That's pretty different of an atmosphere than we had in Washington 20 years ago when Bill Clinton was impeached because back then in 1998, when Clinton was impeached, a majority said that members of Congress shared their moral values and shared the moral values of the rest of the country. Now it's the opposite. A majority say that they think that a majority of Congress does not share their moral values. That helps explain why people have been so immovable. As one of our pollsters said, people are being guided by whose side they think they are on.

KELLY: That is depressing. Another thing to ask you about - the argument that the president has been making, which is that moving forward with impeachment would represent overturning the democratic will of the voters who put him in the White House in 2016 - did our poll look at that?

MONTANARO: Yeah, and I expect he's going to continue to make that argument, especially after seeing these numbers because it's one of the more fascinating things our poll found. Even though people are moving in the direction of supporting the inquiry, almost six in 10 said that they'd rather see Trump's fate decided at the ballot box rather than by impeachment.

Now, that really does reflect the caution and reticence that a lot of Americans have had about going through with impeachment. It's part of why you saw Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, kind of try to hold back the progressives at the gate, but here we are. And, you know, Democrats who have been around a while say that they think that this is politically risky, needs to be handled in a way that keeps that majority that's now in favor of the inquiry on board.

KELLY: All right. So let's take these findings and look ahead. Who does this slight shift help? Who does it hurt?

MONTANARO: Well, people are pretty split in our poll on who they think it helps. Forty-four percent said Democrats. Forty-three percent said Trump. That's frankly the base of both parties, so no one really knows. One person they think that this is hurting is Joe Biden, who'd been leading in the polls on the Democratic side until this controversy. Half of people say they think it will hurt him, while a little over a quarter think it will help, and that's because President Trump has included him in this controversy, trying to deflect about his son being on the board of a gas company in Ukraine.

KELLY: NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thank you.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.