Public support for impeaching President Trump — and also for removing him from office — surged after Nancy Pelosi announced the House impeachment inquiry more than two weeks ago.
For now, that support hasn’t reached the point where one might expect Republican members of Congress to feel substantial political pressure to turn on the president. And while Democrats hope support for impeachment has room for growth, there is not yet conclusive evidence that it’s still increasing.
But the change in public opinion is more than enough for Democrats to avoid the most negative political consequences that they’ve long feared from pursuing impeachment.
Many polls showing lopsided support for impeachment focus on the impeachment inquiry itself, including one this week from the Washington Post/George Mason University that showed adults supporting the inquiry by a 20-point margin, 58 percent to 38 percent.
The high level of support suggests that, at least for now, Democrats are on firm political ground in examining Mr. Trump’s attempt to have Ukraine’s president investigate a political rival’s family. Many voters seem to be taking the allegations against Mr. Trump seriously, and they may eventually determine that his conduct merits removal from office.
But for now, many of the voters who support an inquiry have not reached that conclusion. Polls asking whether voters support impeaching Mr. Trump and removing him from office show far more mixed results. The same Washington Post/George Mason University survey found that 49 percent supported removing Mr. Trump from office, while 44 percent opposed. And other recent polls, including one from NBC/WSJ, suggest that fewer Americans support impeaching and removing the president than not. Question wording, question order or even the timing of the survey in a rapidly unfolding news environment could explain the differences.
On average, voters appear to support impeaching and removing the president by a narrow margin, 47 percent to 44 percent, in polls conducted over the last 10 days.
It’s hard to say what level of political support for impeachment might begin to change the political calculus for members of Congress. There are very few precedents for impeachment, and the factual merits of the case against the president could be just as important as the politics.
But it’s safe to say that the current political environment will not do much to pressure Republicans. Since the Pelosi announcement, the president’s approval rating has slumped to 42.8 percent from 44.3 percent among likely or registered voters, according to FiveThirtyEight. But this merely brings his ratings back to where they were on Sept. 10, and well within the normal range for the president since the end of the government shutdown in January.
Support for impeachment and removal has increased to about the level of opposition to Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination; he wound up winning all but unanimous support from Senate Republicans.
And there is limited evidence that support for impeachment and removal continues to increase. That may be surprising, given flashy headlines showing substantial increases in support. But those results are mainly being compared with those taken before the inquiry was announced. It is not obvious that the most recent polls are much worse for the president than those taken a week or two ago.
Four pollsters have conducted two surveys since the announcement of the inquiry (HarrisX, YouGov, Morning Consult and Quinnipiac), and on average they show support for impeachment creeping up — from plus-4 to plus-5 over an average of 10 days between the initial and second survey.
In other words, it is possible that impeachment support quickly rose as Democrats got on board, but has not necessarily increased much since. Data from Civiqs, an online firm, shows a similar trend, with support for impeachment growing by a net of one percentage point since an initial post-inquiry bounce.
The higher level of support for the impeachment inquiry can give Democrats hope that there are many voters, including many Republicans, who might be open to reaching a verdict against the president. The Watergate scandal is often cited as a favorable precedent for the Democrats in this regard. Support for impeachment of President Richard M. Nixon tended to grow during that investigation.
It is far too soon to say whether a similar story will play out for President Trump.