The impeachment hearings have been making headlines and drawing big ratings. We’ll soon see whether the blitz of testimony has also had an impact on whether Americans think President Trump committed an impeachable offense when we reinterview our panel of voters, who we’ve partnered with Ipsos to survey repeatedly over time.
We’re especially interested in following up with people who haven’t fully made up their minds about impeachment and understanding what it might take to sway them to the Democrats’ or Republicans’ side. Our initial survey with Ipsos — conducted using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel — found, for instance, that while most Americans say they’re “absolutely” or “pretty” certain about their stance on whether Trump has committed an impeachable offense, about a quarter were “somewhat” or “not at all” certain — which could mean they’re more persuadable.
Interestingly, there wasn’t a big partisan divide among the people in our survey who are less certain about impeachment. About half of those with greater doubts (47 percent) identified as Republicans or leaned toward the Republican Party, and a nearly identical share (48 percent) identified as Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party. But even though this group is pretty evenly split by party, they do have one thing in common: They’re less ideologically extreme than those who are more certain about impeachment. In fact, of this group, 45 percent identified as ideologically moderate, whereas 34 percent of those who are more certain identified as moderate. Additionally, the not-so-certain are less likely to say they’re very liberal or conservative.
Another data point to suggest that this less-certain group might be less intensely partisan? Fewer say they get their news from Fox News or MSNBC. A bit less than half of both groups are getting their impeachment information at least in part from television news, but among the more uncertain respondents in our survey, only 16 percent said they got their news primarily from Fox News or MSNBC, compared with 30 percent of respondents who said their opinion was more certain.
More persuadable Republicans believe key facts
There’s also evidence from our survey that less-certain partisans are absorbing elements of the impeachment inquiry differently than people who are more convinced of their stance. We asked respondents about their views on the three questions that are guiding Democrats’ inquiry. In broad strokes, these are:
- Did Trump ask Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter?
- Did Trump withhold military aid to pressure the Ukrainians into opening an investigation into the Bidens?
- Did the Trump administration try to cover up Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine?
And Democrats — regardless of their level of certainty about whether Trump committed an impeachable offense — are generally more likely than Republicans to believe that Trump did these things. They’re also more likely to believe that his behavior would be both inappropriate and impeachable. But there are some noteworthy differences within the parties that differentiate the people who are still on the fence. For instance, only 54 percent of Democrats who are less certain about whether Trump committed an impeachable offense believe that it would be impeachable if Trump asked Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, compared to 78 percent of Democrats who are more certain.
Meanwhile, less-certain Republicans are much likelier than Republicans with a firmer view on impeachment to believe some of the central claims Democrats are presenting in the investigation. About 4 in 10 less-certain Republicans believe that Trump did withhold military aid to pressure Ukraine to commit to the investigations, compared with only 20 percent of more-certain Republicans. And nearly half of less-certain Republicans agree that the Trump administration did try to cover up the president’s actions regarding Ukraine, compared to only 18 percent of more-certain Republicans.
All of this suggests that less-certain Republicans might be more open to Democrats’ arguments on impeachment. Admittedly, this isn’t a huge group of people — it’s only 12 percent of our sample — but with the country so closely divided on impeachment, even nudging a small number of Americans into the impeachment camp could make a difference for Democrats.
But persuadable people aren’t paying as much attention
There’s one big hurdle for anyone looking to persuade this group, though — at this point, they’re not following developments in the impeachment inquiry very closely. Only 34 percent of people who aren’t as certain about their stance on impeachment are following the process somewhat or very closely, compared with 66 percent of respondents who are more certain.
Meanwhile, people who don’t have as firm a perspective on whether Trump committed an impeachable offense are also less likely to have a strong view about how both parties are handling the process so far. Respondents who are more certain about Trump’s behavior also tend to have a more forceful opinion about Republicans and Democrats in Congress — this group is about evenly divided on Democrats’ performance, while more than half disapprove of Republicans. People in the less-certain group, on the other hand, are much more likely to say they neither approve nor disapprove of how Democrats and Republicans are handling the process so far. That might be a symptom of their general uncommittedness, but it could also be a sign that they’re simply not following things closely enough to have a strong opinion about almost any aspect of the proceedings.
We’ll be tracking how this group responds to the impeachment process over the next few months, so we’ll be able to see if they actually change their minds. But right now, Democrats’ biggest challenge may not be persuading less-convinced Americans on the facts — it may be getting them to pay attention in the first place.