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Is Impeachment More Popular Because Of Ukraine? Or Because Voters Are Sheep?

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll(s) of the week

Public support for impeaching President Trump has gone up significantly over the last two weeks. And a big part of that increase comes from Democrats; about 79 percent support impeachment as of Thursday evening, according to the FiveThirtyEight average, up from about 72 percent before the Ukraine scandal broke.1

That raises an interesting question: Did Americans, particularly Democrats, decide on their own that Trump pushing the Ukrainian president to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter crossed into impeachable behavior? Or is the public following the views of elites, with a sizable bloc of Democrats embracing impeachment only after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and almost the entire party got on board?

The two events — news of the president’s phone call with Ukraine and congressional Democrats deciding to start the impeachment process — happened in quick succession, so we may never be able to untangle the exact causal threads. But the safest assumption doesn’t really require much untangling: It likely took both factors to move public opinion so suddenly.

What evidence do we have that the Ukraine news itself shifted opinion? Well, we’ve seen just as big a jump in support for impeachment among independents as Democrats — and presumably independents don’t care as much about the views of either party’s leaders.the polls we collected counted people who lean towards one party as independents, so some of those independents are basically Democrats and may also be influenced by the party’s response.


Polls also show that Americans say they are concerned about the Ukraine scandal. A Quinnipiac poll found 50 percent of voters said Trump had “done something wrong” in his interactions with the Ukrainian president. And an ABC News/Ipsos survey found that a clear majority of respondents said that it was a “very serious” (43 percent) or “somewhat serious” (21 percent) problem that Trump “encouraged the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.”

Then again, these measures — support for impeachment among independents and Americans’ views of Trump’s actions — are themselves likely influenced by elites, particularly the media. (I think the media is more clearly covering the Ukraine controversy as “Trump did a bad thing” than it did the Russia investigation.)

Moreover, there’s a fair amount of political science research suggesting that voters are more tied to their parties than to their issue positions. For example, when Democratic Party leaders decided to support same-sex marriage, many Democratic voters who opposed gay marriage simply changed their position, rather than leave the party. The rise of Trump displayed the same dynamic, as many Republican voters who used to be wary of Russia and care deeply about the moral values of politicians abandoned those views to align with their party’s leader. So the increase in Democratic support for impeachment after Pelosi and more moderate Democrats got on board fits that broader pattern.

Why does it matter what exactly caused this shift in public opinion? Well, if people change their minds about something largely because of new facts, that’s fairly intuitive and not particularly surprising. Perhaps impeachment became more popular largely because Trump did something that was clearly bad and, unlike special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, fairly easy to understand.

But if impeachment got more popular largely because Democratic voters, and some independents, are taking cues from party leaders, that’s more interesting. If voters are basically lemmings following the dictates of their party’s leaders, fairly unpopular ideas can in theory become more popular — and perhaps popular ideas can become less popular.

Pelosi often says that she is weighing public opinion as she makes her decisions. But what if politicians, particularly someone in a high-profile role like Pelosi, are shaping public opinion as they react to it? For example, Biden, Pelosi and centrist Democrats in Congress are wary of a Medicare for All health care system (as opposed to keeping the existing system, but letting some people enroll in a Medicare-style health care option if they choose). And polls suggest Medicare for All is not particularly popular with voters, even among Democrats. But if key leaders in the Democratic Party got behind Medicare for All — or even a more unpopular idea, like reparations — would most Democratic-leaning voters start supporting it, thus significantly raising its overall popularity in a country that is divided fairly evenly between the two parties?

Conversely, if Biden becomes the Democratic nominee, does single-payer health care become even more unpopular among Democrats, since he will be the party’s standard-bearer and has made his opposition to the policy clear?

I’m sure there are limits to how much party leaders can move the voters in their parties. But it’s worth thinking about this dynamic as you read poll results and watch how politicians react to them.

Other polling bites

  • 47 percent of Americans think race relations in the country are worse than they were a year ago, according to a new AP-NORC poll. The poll found 33 percent of Americans approve of the way Trump is handling “race relations,” compared to 65 percent who disapprove. This result breaks along racial lines: 43 percent of white Americans approve of Trump’s actions on race relations, compared to 16 percent of Hispanics and 5 percent of blacks.
  • 32 percent of likely voters in California say they would back an upcoming referendum to overturn a recently passed law in the Golden State that eliminates cash bail, according to a new Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll; 39 percent want the law to stay in place, and 29 percent are undecided.
  • 77 percent of adults in the United Kingdom and 75 percent in Canada support a universal basic income program meant to help people who lose jobs because of technological advancements, according to a recent poll conducted by Gallup and Northeastern University. Support for such a UBI program was much lower in the United States, at 43 percent.
  • According to a new Pew Research Center poll, 62 percent of Americans think that social media companies have too much control over the mix of news that people see. That includes majorities of respondents who identify as Republican or Republican-leaning (75 percent) as well as Democratic or Democratic-leaning (53 percent).
  • Federal agencies like NASA (81 percent favorable), the National Park Service (86 percent) and the U.S. Postal Service (90 percent) are almost universally popular among Americans, according to a new Pew poll. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (52 percent unfavorable) and the Department of Education (48 percent unfavorable) are the least popular agencies.
  • Fewer than 1-in-4 Americans (23 percent) think the economy will improve over the next year, according to CNBC’s latest All-America Economic Survey. That’s a three-year low.
  • A Seton Hall Sports poll found that Americans support student-athletes making money by almost a 2-to-1 margin. Sixty percent favored allowing them to “profit from the use of their name, likeness or image” while 32 percent were opposed.
  • Only 34 percent of Americans approve of Trump “as a person,” according to a new Gallup poll. The same survey found the president’s job approval at 40 percent.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 41.2 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 53.9 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -12.7 points). At this time last week, 42.8 percent approved and 53.2 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -10.4 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 41.5 percent and a disapproval rating of 54.0 percent, for a net approval rating of -12.5 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead by 6.9 percentage points (46.9 percent to 40.0 percent). At this time last week, Democrats led by 6. 8 percentage points (46.8 percent to 40.0 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 6.3 points (46.4 percent to 39.7 percent).

Check out our latest impeachment polls tracker.

How Views On Impeachment Have Changed In Just One Week


  1. Support among independents went from 34 percent to 41 percent, and support among Republicans from about 10 percent to over 14 percent.

  2. Of course, some of the polls we collected counted people who lean towards one party as independents, so some of those independents are basically Democrats and may also be influenced by the party’s response.

Perry Bacon Jr. was a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.