The poll numbers are in on impeachment, and it’s not good news for President Donald Trump. A clear plurality of Americans approve of the House’s impeachment inquiry into Trump, and they are split on whether they want to impeach and remove him from office.
Americans are more eager to impeach Trump now than they were at similar points in the impeachment sagas of Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon.
Impeachment actions usually start off as being unpopular with the American public. After the House voted to start an impeachment inquiry of Clinton in October 1998, a CBS News/New York Times poll found that 45% approved and 53% disapproved.
But with Trump, those numbers are reversed. In an average of polls taken since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a formal inquiry last week, 51% support an impeachment inquiry. A minority, 44%, are against it.
When it comes to impeaching and removing Trump from office, the difference is even more dramatic. An average of polls taken since early last week shows that 46% support impeaching and removing Trump from office. That’s about equal with the 45% who are against such an action.
Clinton vs. Trump
Back in October 1998, the vast majority of Americans were against impeaching and removing Clinton from office. In a CNN poll from then, only 31% favored impeaching and removing. The vast majority, 63%, were against it. This -32 point gap for impeaching and removing Clinton stands in contrast to the +1 gap for impeaching and removing Trump.
At no point during the impeachment proceedings against Clinton did anywhere close to a plurality of Americans want Clinton impeached and removed from office. Right now, you could argue that we’re already at that point with Trump.
This, of course, is one of the key differences with the politics of impeachment now and 21 years ago. There is a belief that the impeachment inquiry hurt Republicans in the 1998 midterm elections. That may be true, but this polling suggests the situation with Clinton and Trump are very different. Impeaching Clinton was far less popular than impeaching Trump is today.
Nixon vs. Trump
More amazingly, more Americans are in favor of impeaching Trump now than they were at a similar time during the House’s investigation of Nixon in 1973 and 1974.
The House Judiciary Committee voted to start an impeachment inquiry of Nixon in late October 1973. This was following the infamous Saturday Night Massacre, in which Nixon ordered his attorney general to fire an independent prosecutor looking into the Watergate scandal. A Gallup poll taken in the immediate aftermath found that just 38% felt that Nixon should be impeached and compelled to leave the presidency. The majority, 53%, said that he shouldn’t.
Even after two dramatic events, the public was apprehensive about impeaching and removing Nixon.
Now, you could make the argument that the fairer comparison for Trump to Nixon is after the entire House formally voted to start the impeachment inquiry in February 1974. A Harris poll taken a few weeks later put support impeaching and removing Nixon at 43% and opposition at 41%. That gap is about equal to the gap we see today and only came months after the inquiry had really already began.
But even if you consider this later date, the 46% in favor of impeaching and removing Trump now is greater than the 43% who favored it during a similar point in the Nixon impeachment process. It wasn’t until right before Nixon resigned that close to a majority wanted him out.
Some of the support for impeaching Trump and the impeachment inquiry against him may be because of polarization and dislike for the President. Trump’s strongly disapprove rating has consistently been around 50%, and most of the people who disapprove of Trump are for some sort of impeachment action.
Polarization, however, is probably not the root cause of the polling we’re seeing on a possible Trump impeachment. Politics were polarized during Barack Obama’s administration, and not many wanted him impeached and removed. Only 33% of Americans wanted Obama impeached and removed in a July 2014 CNN poll. Most, 65%, didn’t feel that way.
That split came even though Obama was about as a popular (42% approval rating) as Trump is today.
The bottom line: Americans think Trump did something wrong that, at a minimum, deserves to be looked into for possible impeachment. He is in historically unprecedented waters. The impeachment numbers he’s facing now are really not good for him, given where we are in the process.