As we’re more than a month out from when Democrats initially announced the start of an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, the question might seem unimportant now. But there are reasons to ask it anyway: did public support motivate Democrats to support impeachment…or was it the other way around?
There’s reason to believe that the latter scenario — that support for impeachment came about only after Democrats acted — is more in-line with reality. A look at FiveThirtyEight.com’s tracking of support for impeachment shows that the American public didn’t “flip” on the matter (with more in favor of it than against) until after Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced support for (and the start of) an impeachment inquiry in late September.
According to FiveThirtyEight, the news of the Ukraine scandal didn’t “snowball” (their word, not ours) until September 19 of this year. Pelosi announced an impeachment inquiry into Trump five days later, on September 24.
On that date, support for impeachment, according to an average of polls FiveThirtyEight kept track of, still showed that most of the public stood against impeachment, with 51.2 percent opposed to it versus 38.7 percent in support.
The average in polls didn’t make the switch to a plurality in support of impeachment until five days after Pelosi’s announcement — September 29, 10 days after the whistleblower’s complaint made headline news. And support has been more favorable ever since, with a plurality or a majority of Americans backing an impeachment inquiry in most polling from that point on.
There was one point before, however, when an average of polling for impeachment was higher than opposition: February 28 of this year. What was the big topic driving news coverage at the time? Trump had declared a national emergency to divert federal funds to build portions of his proposed border wall, a move that a majority of Americans were against, according to Politico. It’s possible that idea drove citizens to support the idea of impeachment, for abusing his executive power to promote a move Congress had already rejected.
But Democrats didn’t act on that, and support for impeachment subsided shortly after.
Why does all of this matter? Democrats, if they want to be successful with impeachment moving forward, need to recognize that their actions can drive the political debate on the issue. Were they to have taken action against the president in February of this year, or shortly after the release of the Mueller report (which detailed 10 instances of Trump obstructing justice), it could have swayed public opinion at that time.
Being more proactive in the debate comes with risks, of course, but it’s clear that the American people found Trump’s actions to be detrimental and, dare say, impeachable. It’s possible they just needed to hear Democrats say it, too, before they backed the idea as politically feasible.
Indeed, many respondents who opposed impeachment before did so out of concern for Democrats rather than embracing the president, prior reporting from HillReporter.com detailed. In a late September poll, a third of respondents said their opposition to impeachment was because they thought it would hurt Democrats in the long-run politically.
It’s likely that a number of those individuals are presently in favor of impeachment, now that Democrats have decided to act — and with that shift, most Americans are in favor of keeping the impeachment inquiry going rather than having it stop at this point.
It took Democratic lawmakers’ actions to get to this point. That should be a lesson on this issue, and perhaps others, moving forward.