One-third of Americans support impeaching Obama. One-fifth don’t understand “impeachment.”


President Clinton thanks those Democratic members of the House who voted against impeachment in 1998. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

For the casual observer (or enthusiastic partisan), a new poll from CNN / ORC International reveals a staggering point of data: one-third of the country, 33 percent, supports impeaching President Obama. That's 100 million people (if we extrapolate those attitudes to children and so on)! Can he survive?

Yes, he can. As CNN itself points out, that figure is in line with public support for impeachment of Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton during their time in office. In August 2006, a CNN poll found that 30 percent of Americans supported impeaching Bush. And in September 1998, 29 percent supported impeaching Clinton. A Post poll from that December had the figure even higher, at 39 percent.

There's a good footnote to that data which we will get to in a second.

You will not be surprised to learn that attitudes on impeachment break down along party lines. Four times as many Republicans think Obama should be impeached as Democrats. Independent voters are slightly above the overall average.

You are not surprised by that for two reasons. The first is that you are familiar with the state of our nation's polarized politics. The second is that you are probably familiar with the way that "impeachment" has become a sort of shorthand for "recall election."

CNN asked respondents when they thought impeachment was appropriate. Eighteen percent said that it was appropriate "in order to express dissatisfaction with his policies or the way the president is handling his job." That's one-fifth of the country; some 60 million people (again including little kids for some reason).

Here's what the Constitution says about impeachment, as a refresher.

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High crimes and misdemeanors are listed. Being mad about something is not.

Now we come back to the footnote from above. Clinton was impeached (having admitted to committing a crime), but was not removed from office, because those are two different things. Impeachment has become something of a shorthand for "we need him gone," but that's not what the tool does. States and localities have recall elections, which are specific tools for removing officials from office for whatever reason the voters want. There are recall elections at the federal level, too. Unfortunately for voters in 1998 and 2006 and 2014, those recall elections (also known as reelection bids) had already occurred two years in the past.

Interestingly, in a search of news articles from President Reagan's administration we couldn't find polls on whether or not he should have been impeached. In December 1986, the Times polled on whether or not people thought Reagan was trustworthy and on administration officials pleading the Fifth in response to questions on the Iran-Contra scandal. But no question about impeachment. Shortly after, an opinion columnist writing for the paper argued that "[m]any think the president deserves impeachment." That isn't quantified.

None of which means that Obama won't face impeachment. On Friday morning, adviser Dan Pfeiffer predicted that this was the path the House was headed down. We shall see.

Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He previously wrote for The Wire, the news blog of The Atlantic magazine. He has contributed to The Daily Beast, The Atlantic, The Daily, and the Huffington Post. Philip is based in New York City.
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