House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said impeachment was necessary because it would be dangerous to allow voters to decide whether President Donald Trump should be removed from office. Given the way coveted, independent voters are viewing the impeachment proceedings, she might be right.
Whether its confusion, outrage or apathy, surveys and polls conducted since the impeachment proceedings began to indicate that independent voters, whose votes will be critical to win the 2020 presidential election, are not reacting the way Democrats hoped they would.
The president’s job approval rating among independent voters has increased six percentage points since the House of Representatives opened its impeachment inquiry in the fall, according to the latest poll from Gallup. The 42 percent approval matches the highest rating voters have given Trump since he took office.
In fact, recent surveys conducted by The New York Times and The Economist — publications with divergent political leanings — found that most independents don’t care about impeachment. And among those that do, less than half support it.
“I feel it is not your responsibility to take somebody that was duly elected out of office — let me do that,” said independent voter Susan Jaslow, as she confronted Rep. Kendra Horn (D-OKLA) at a Dec. 8th town hall meeting in Oklahoma City. “As an independent voter, I think you’re in a lot of trouble if you vote for this impeachment.”
After the video of the confrontation went viral, Jaslow, who describes herself as a non-political person, told Fox News that Nancy Pelosi inspired her to speak out.
“Speaker Pelosi looked at me and said, ‘Our constitution is at stake if we don’t impeach the president.’ And then she went on to tell me that this is not a political matter,” Jaslow said in an interview. “She’s insulting my intelligence. I mean, that’s absolutely ludicrous.”
The attitudes of independents like Jaslow are reflected in other numbers. The Economist/YouGov survey, which queried 1,500 independent voters between December 7 – 10, showed that independents were more closely aligned with Republicans than with Democrats in their views on the impeachment process.
When polled, 48 percent of independents said they were not interested in the impeachment inquiry at all, compared with the 18 percent of Democrats and 47 percent of Republicans who are not interested in the inquiry. Just 20 percent of independents said they were very interested, compared with the 19 percent of Republicans and the 48 percent of Democrats who were very interested in the impeachment inquiry.
In a survey of independent voters conducted by the New York Times and published December 19, only about 37 percent chose impeachment as their number one issue heading into the 2020 presidential election. The independents were asked to rank impeachment against other issues, including health care, abortion, taxes, foreign policy, immigration and the environment.
Regarding whether the president should be impeached if it’s proven he purposefully withheld military aid to Ukraine in order to get Ukraine’s president to investigate corruption allegations against the Biden family, only 39 percent of independents polled by The Economist/YouGov said yes. Another 35 percent said no, and 26 percent were unsure. This compares with 83 percent of Democrats and 16 percent of Republicans who believed this would constitute an impeachable offense.
With such pervasive media coverage, it’s unlikely that many independent voters who have televisions or internet heard nothing about the impeachment hearings. Why then are Democrats struggling to tip the scales in their favor? Is it the message, the messengers or both?
Impeachment is not unique to America. Democracies all over the world have systems in place to remove duly elected leaders. Since 1990, at least 132 different heads of state have faced some 272 impeachment proposals in 63 countries. But not all require the same type of evidence or lumbering political process.
Washington Examiner reporter Eddie Scarry believes the impeachment hearings are not hurting Trump for a very simple reason — too much minutia.
“The truth about this freak show of an impeachment process,” Scarry wrote, “is that even if you take the position that Trump did something deadly wrong in his dealings with Ukraine, the story and the details are so abstruse, so convoluted, that the average person would need 40mg of Adderall injected directly into their veins just to sit long enough for processing who all was involved and what the hell Ukraine has to do with any of it.”
A recent article in The Economist argues that there are simpler, less partisan paths to impeachment that America could learn from.
In Tanzania, the president can be impeached if he has “conducted himself in a manner which lowers the esteem of the office of president.” Honduran presidents can be impeached for incompetence. In Ghana, disrepute, ridicule or contempt of office suffice.
Some countries allow the judiciary to have final say before removing a president — a safeguard against purely political outcomes. Sixty-one nations grant courts or constitutional councils this power. Others handle the aftermath of impeachment differently.
In South Korea, removal of a president triggers new elections rather than a vice president assuming office. This makes the process more akin to a “no-confidence” vote in leadership, as happens in parliamentary democracies, and allows political change to happen more quickly.
Presidential Counselor Kelly Ann Conway, who touts poll numbers as proof the hyper-charged impeachment process is backfiring on Democrats, believes the objective nature of independent voters colliding with the impeachment proceeding’s death-match partisanship is what’s evoking negative attitudes.
“They abhor this impeachment charade,” Conway said in a recent broadcast interview. “And why? Because independents call themselves that because they don’t particularly like Democrats or Republicans. They like to fancy themselves independent and non-partisan, and they have witnessed the most partisan exercise in the last several years against this president.”
Combined with the immovable nature of the president’s hardcore supporters and his wide support among Republicans, winning over the swing voters who dismiss or oppose impeachment could be enough to reelect the president.
The Washington Post threw up an alarm about this possibility before Pelosi even announced that Democrats would move to impeach the president. After analyzing summer polling data, the newspaper reported that independents were opposed to impeaching Trump by a margin of more than 20 percentage points.
Worse for Democrats is that polls indicate independent voters in battleground states like Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Wisconsin are growing particularly weary of impeachment.
So, if the 2020 election becomes a de facto referendum on impeachment, and independent voters help reelect the president, Pelosi’s warnings against letting voters decide Trump’s fate will be prophetic — for her own party.