Poll: Most Democrats Back Impeachment Hearings, A Move That's Unpopular Overall

May 1, 2019
Originally published on May 1, 2019 7:06 pm

Most Democrats want impeachment hearings to begin now that special counsel Robert Mueller's redacted findings are public, but that idea is still unpopular overall, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

The results come as national Democratic Party leaders and 2020 presidential candidates are grappling with how to approach an issue that could ignite base voters but alienate a section of more moderate America.

"There's a political risk in talking about moving ahead with impeachment proceedings," says Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the poll. "There's not a huge appetite for that going forward."

The poll shows how Americans are split down partisan lines on a number of issues related to the investigation into Russian election interference, a divide that is sure to be on display Wednesday, when Attorney General William Barr answers questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Overall, a majority of Americans think Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference was fair, but about half also say it will not be an important factor in how they vote in the next presidential race.

How to proceed after Mueller

Seven in 10 Democrats want Congress to begin impeachment hearings based on the findings in Mueller's report, but just 39% of Americans overall think impeachment hearings are the correct next step.

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That has put Democratic leadership, especially in the House of Representatives, on a "tight rope" says Miringoff.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has steered away from calling for impeachment, instead calling for further investigation, an idea that has broader support.

Overall, 48% of Americans think Democrats in Congress should continue investigating Russian election interference, compared with 46% who think the investigations should end.

Americans by and large have also been unimpressed by Congress' efforts to combat Russian interference efforts since the 2016 election. Only 19% of Americans think Congress has done a "great deal" or a "good amount" to ensure there isn't interference in the 2020 election.

Mueller (still) seen as fair

Despite attacks on Robert Mueller's credibility from the White House for well over a year, a majority of Americans still feel that his investigation was fair.

That was fueled by Democrats in part, explains Miringoff, but was actually anchored by voters who identified as independents. More than two-thirds of independents, 70%, said Mueller's investigation was fair.

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Republicans were split on the fairness question, with 47% calling it unfair and 42% calling it fair. That is surprising, Miringoff said, considering President Trump's efforts to paint the investigation as a "witch hunt" and a "hoax."

"Republicans were not jumping on board the Trump bandwagon on that," said Miringoff.

Overall, the public perception of Mueller's investigation has grown more positive over the past year. In July 2018, just 46% of Americans said they thought the investigation was fair, compared with the 57% who said the same in Wednesday's poll. In March, shortly after Barr released what he described as the "principal conclusions" of Mueller's findings, 56% likewise said the investigation was fair.

Trump "not in good standing" based on approval

Miringoff said there are a number of aspects of the poll results that Trump may find troubling in looking ahead to 2020, beyond his 41% approval rating.

"Riding his strong base alone won't get him a second term," Miringoff said. "He needs a far greater number of independents than he is currently getting."

Almost two-thirds of those independents feel as though "questions still exist" related to Trump's actions in connection to Russia's interference leading up to 2016.

Overall nearly 6 in 10 Americans think the same, compared with 33% of Americans who feel as though the special counsel report cleared the president.

Mueller's investigation did not establish conspiracy between Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and Russia to interfere in the election. While the report does not conclude that Trump obstructed justice, it also "does not exonerate" him.

While most Americans believe there are outstanding questions, it is unclear how much that will matter in November 2020.

In fact, 53% of registered voters said the findings in Mueller's report will not be an important factor in deciding who they will vote for in the next presidential race.

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Most Democrats in the U.S. want impeachment hearings to begin against President Trump. That's according to a new NPR, "PBS NewsHour" and Marist poll out today. But the poll also finds that Americans overall don't want to proceed that way. NPR's Miles Parks has more.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Like most Democrats, Linda Bach isn't a fan of President Trump or the people he's surrounded himself with.

LINDA BACH: Everyone in his, quote-unquote, "interim constellation of an administration" are simply beards for his ethically bankrupt, you know, devoid of true interests and heart for our country.

PARKS: The new NPR, "PBS NewsHour," Marist poll shows that almost all Democrats are like Bach. They strongly disapprove of the job Trump is doing as president. And now that Robert Mueller's redacted report is out, 70% of them want impeachment proceedings to begin in Congress. But that's not in line with the rest of America. Overall, just 39% of poll respondents think impeachment should be the next step. That puts Democratic politicians in an awkward spot, or a tightrope walk, as Mary Griffith puts it. She's the media director for polling at Marist College, who conducted the survey.

MARY GRIFFITH: There is a distinction that needs to be made whether we're talking about the Democratic leadership or whether we're talking about Democrats who are seeking their party's nomination in 2020.

PARKS: That distinction matters because the issue has the potential to ignite Democratic primary voters. Among the presidential hopefuls, Senators Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren as well as former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro have voiced support for impeachment recently. Here's Harris at a CNN event last week.


KAMALA HARRIS: There is an investigation that has been conducted which has produced evidence that tells us that this president and his administration engaged in obstruction of justice. I believe Congress should take the steps towards impeachment.


PARKS: But the poll makes it clear that pushing impeachment could also alienate some more moderate voters in the general election.

JACK SCHONHAUT: The Democrats shouldn't pursuit it anymore.

PARKS: That's Jack Schonhaut. He's a self-proclaimed lifelong Democrat from Long Island. He says Democrats need people in the Midwest to vote for them in the next presidential election.

SCHONHAUT: I mean, because impeachment is only going to further divide the country, I think the focus should be on 2020, voting the guy out of office.

PARKS: Even as support for impeachment is soft, there remains broad confidence in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. The poll found that 57% of Americans believe Mueller's investigation to be fair. Democrats and independent voters overwhelmingly thought his work was done fairly. And independents also think there's more to investigate when it comes to Trump and Russia. Sixty-five percent said questions still exist about President Trump's potential wrongdoing.

Republicans were pretty evenly split on the investigation. That was surprising to Mary Griffith because it comes after two years of attacks on the investigation from President Trump.

GRIFFITH: Donald Trump has been able to carry his base along with him on most issues. But when it comes to the investigation, in terms of its fairness, that hasn't been the case.

PARKS: So what impact will the special counsel's report have on the presidential race in 2020? Not very much according to this poll. Just 6% of all registered voters and just 3% of independents said it would be the most important factor when they choose who to vote for. Miles Parks, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.