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The Impeachment Hearings Just Confirmed Voters’ Preexisting Opinions

The first phase of the impeachment process is over, and according to our impeachment tracker, public opinion on impeaching and removing President Trump has remained largely steady through most of November, with roughly 47 percent of Americans supporting impeachment and 44 percent opposed. And in our latest survey with Ipsos, where we check back in with the same group of respondents every two weeks using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel, we uncovered a similar trend.

A majority of Americans (57 percent) still think Trump committed an impeachable offense, which is essentially identical to the share who said so in mid-November when we first asked the question. There was one relatively small but noteworthy shift between the first and second rounds of our survey. After the first round of hearings, where witnesses testified that Trump and his allies had been involved in the push for investigations into Joe Biden and his son, respondents were more likely to agree that Trump withheld military aid to pressure the Ukrainians into opening an investigation. In our initial survey, 56 percent of respondents said they believed this happened, but in the latest poll, that number rose to 63 percent. Democrats are still, however, much more likely than Republicans to think that Trump conditioned the aid on the investigations.

Overall, though, opinion on impeachment seems to have hardened as a result of the public testimony instead of persuading people to change their position. For instance, a majority of respondents (58 percent) said that the hearings did shift their thinking on whether Trump committed an impeachable offense, but in almost all cases they simply became more convinced of their original opinion. Ninety-five percent of people who said the hearings made them more likely to think Trump committed an impeachable offense already said they thought he committed an impeachable offense in the first wave of our poll. Similarly, 95 percent of those who said the hearings made them less likely to think Trump committed an impeachable offense already thought his behavior wasn’t impeachable.1

Americans are split on whether Congress should decide Trump’s fate

Many Americans appear to have made up their minds about whether Trump committed an impeachable offense, but what do they think should happen to Trump next? This time, we asked respondents how they thought the impeachment process should end for Trump: Should he be impeached by the House and removed from office by the Senate? Or should his fate be decided in the 2020 election? Respondents were slightly more likely to say that the voters should determine what happens to Trump’s presidency (51 percent), while 47 percent said Congress should impeach him and remove him from office.

This means that 12 percent of respondents in our survey believed that Trump committed an impeachable offense, but that he should not be impeached and removed by Congress. Notably, Democrats were more likely than Republicans to occupy this middle ground. Just about 17 percent of Democrats believe that Trump committed an impeachable offense but his fate should be decided by the voters, rather than Congress, compared to only 7 percent of Republicans.

It’s important not to overstate the influence of the people who believe Trump committed an impeachable offense but should not be removed, given that they constitute a relatively small slice of Americans overall. But this group could still be significant for Democrats looking to draw more people into the pro-impeachment camp, since the fact that they’re already convinced of the severity of Trump’s behavior (and mostly identify as Democrats) could mean they remain somewhat persuadable.

Most Americans don’t think Ukraine interfered

Our survey also suggests that one of Trump’s defenders’ key arguments isn’t really landing. Throughout the hearings, Republicans in Congress have repeatedly floated an inaccurate theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election, using the idea as a justification for why Trump would want to ask Ukraine for investigations in the first place. But according to our survey, the idea that Ukraine interfered isn’t gaining much traction with the public. Only 30 percent of Americans believe that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election. By contrast, 71 percent of Americans believe that Russia interfered with the 2016 election. And the theory isn’t even resonating broadly among Trump’s supporters: Republicans aren’t any likelier than Democrats to think that Ukraine meddled in 2016.

There is one group, though, where a substantial chunk of respondents do believe Ukraine interfered in 2016: Fox News viewers. More than 4 in 10 respondents who say they predominantly watch Fox News say that Ukraine did interfere in the 2016 election, a higher share than among respondents who get their news from other networks. Fox News viewers were also less likely than other respondents to believe that Russia interfered with the last presidential election.

Fox viewers are most likely to believe Ukraine interfered

Share of respondents in an Ipsos/FiveThirtyEight poll who said they think Ukraine or Russia interfered in the 2016 election, by the TV news network they predominantly watched

SHARE THAT BELIEVE IN INTERFERENCE BY …
TV Network TOTAL Ukraine Russia
Fox 332 44.2%
56.3%
CBS 174 35.3
76.0
ABC 184 33.1
72.9
NBC 176 29.4
73.2
CNN 171 29.2
89.1
MSNBC 108 10.5
90.7
Other 100 38.7
78.5
Don’t watch 476 21.4
65.7

From a poll with 1,726 respondents, conducted from Nov. 27 to Dec. 2. TV news network information comes from wave 1 of the poll, conducted Nov. 13 to Nov. 18.

It makes sense that Fox News viewers are more likely to believe that Ukraine interfered, since Trump himself recently laid out the debunked theory on “Fox & Friends.” Overall, though, the fact that the narrative hasn’t gained widespread purchase even among rank-and-file Republicans isn’t especially good news for Trump’s defenders. As the impeachment process moves forward, both sides may find it increasingly difficult to change Americans’ minds.

Footnotes

  1. Another 41 percent said the hearings didn’t change their opinions at all.

Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux is a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.

Laura Bronner is FiveThirtyEight’s quantitative editor.

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