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Half Of Americans Think Impeachment Is A Bad Use Of Congress’s Time

Two months ago, we set out to track how Americans are responding to President Trump’s impeachment in real time. And what we’ve found in our polling with Ipsos, where we interview the same group of respondents every few weeks using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel, is that while a majority of Americans do think Trump committed an impeachable offense, not many are changing their minds on impeachment. The partisan splits on the impeachment process run deep, and, if anything, the public is only becoming more divided.

But those top line results, while helpful for understanding the political stakes for the senators who will soon be voting on whether to acquit or convict the president, don’t necessarily tell us much about how Americans are feeling about impeachment. So to try to capture some of the emotions churning beneath the surface, we asked our respondents whether they thought the impeachment process was a good or bad use of Congress’s time and had them give us a few words they would use to describe the impeachment process.

Americans say impeachment is a bad use of time

Share of respondents in a FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll who said they thought the impeachment process is a bad use of Congress’s time, by party

party Share
All 51.2%
Democratic 24.6
Republican 85.4

From a poll with 1,587 respondents, conducted Jan. 17-20, 2020.

Many Americans don’t think Congress should be spending its time on impeachment, but there is a pretty big split between Democrats and Republicans on this question. Overall, a slight majority (51 percent) of Americans say the process is a bad use of Congress’s time, while 45 percent say it’s a good use of time. But only 25 percent of Democrats say the process has been a bad use of time, compared with 85 percent of Republicans who say the same.

Among those who said impeachment was a bad use of time, a plurality (39 percent) said that it’s because the process distracts Congress from more important issues. Another 33 percent said it’s because Trump didn’t commit an impeachable offense. For those who thought impeachment has been a good use of Congress’s time, a majority (55 percent) said it’s because it’s Congress’s job to investigate potential wrongdoing by the president.1

Some believe impeachment is a distraction

Why respondents in a FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll said the impeachment process is a good or bad use of Congress’s time

Reason it’s a good use of time (among 45 percent who said it’s good) share
Congress’s job to investigate potential wrongdoing 55.3%
Necessary response to Trump committing an impeachable offense 31.7
Brought important information about Trump to light 10.8
Might strengthen Trump’s reelection chances 1.4
reason it’s a Bad Use of time (among 51 percent who said it’s bad) share
Distracts Congress from more important issues 38.7%
Trump didn’t commit an impeachable offense 33.3
Trump was always unlikely to be removed by the Senate 15.2
The 2020 election is so soon 12.2

From a poll with 1,587 respondents, conducted Jan. 17-20, 2020.

We also asked respondents an open-ended question that allowed them to share a few words for how they’d describe the impeachment process. In the most recent wave of our survey, 24 percent of Republicans mentioned “waste” in their description of the impeachment process, a notable increase over the last two waves, when around 17 percent of GOP respondents used the word. The words mentioned by Democrats, meanwhile, have been all over the map, with “necessary” and “Trump” showing up the most — but not nearly as frequently as “waste” did among Republicans.

Republicans use similar words to talk about impeachment

Share of respondents, by party, who used a given word in response to an open-ended question about how they’d describe the impeachment process, in a FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll

Democrats Republicans
Word times used Percentage Word times used Percentage
trump 70 8.6% waste 187 23.6%
necessary 57 7.4 time 113 17.4
long 43 7.0 money 80 11.8
time 40 6.4 partisan 78 9.5
waste 34 4.5 political 78 9.2
slow 25 4.3 stupid 52 7.6
partisan 39 4.2 democrats 53 7.5
president 35 3.9 witch hunt 51 7.2
trial 24 3.5 trump 42 5.8
justice 23 3.3 sham 34 5.1

From a poll conducted Jan. 17-20, 2020, with 1,587 respondents.

It is likely not a coincidence that “waste of time” is a phrase that Trump and his allies frequently use to describe the impeachment process. The news coverage of the impeachment process may also be driving some of what we see in our data. For example, respondents in our survey who said they mostly watched Fox News were much likelier than those who got their news from other sources to describe impeachment as a “waste.” “Sham,” “witch hunt” and “stupid” — all fixtures of Trump’s impeachment vocabulary — appeared with some regularity in Republicans’ responses to the question.

It’s hard, of course, to know whether the growing perception among Republicans that impeachment is a “waste” is connected to some of the other trends we’ve seen in our polling with Ipsos, including the fact that Republicans’ support for Trump has grown, along with their skepticism about key elements of the Democrats’ case against the president. But together, these trends indicate that over the past few months, at least some additional Republicans have fallen into line behind Trump. In fact, and as the chart below shows, Republicans are increasingly likely to use similar words to describe the impeachment process as compared to Democrats, who remain much less cohesive.

Democrats’ most common responses are also noteworthy for what they didn’t include. Words linked to the substance of the charges against Trump, like “Ukraine” or “quid pro quo,” weren’t among those that were most frequently mentioned by Democrats. Instead, common descriptions hinged on the length of the process (“long” and “slow”), the figure at the center of the drama (“Trump” and “president”), or the reasons for its existence (“necessary” and “justice”). And about 5 percent of Democrats also used the word “waste” to describe impeachment, perhaps reflecting the not-insignificant number who think the process has been a bad use of Congress’s time.

Polls can only tell us so much, of course, about how people are feeling — even when respondents are allowed to describe their perspective in their own words. But these findings do give us a window into how people on both sides of the impeachment debate are absorbing the process — and how they might continue to think about it after the final Senate vote is tallied. If nothing else, the fact that “waste,” “Trump” and “partisan” are the only words that were frequently used by both Republicans and Democrats paints a fairly bleak picture of where Americans can find common ground when it comes to impeachment.

Footnotes

  1. Sample sizes were too small to break responses down by reason and party.

Laura Bronner is FiveThirtyEight’s quantitative editor.

Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux is a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.

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