In a recent interview with TMZ, President Trump’s confidant Roger Stone was asked about the prospect of the president’s impeachment, a topic that has arisen occasionally in recent months. “You will have a spasm of violence in this country, an insurrection like you’ve never seen,” Stone responded. “The people will not stand for impeachment. A politician that votes for it would be endangering their own life.”
Even if we take Stone’s comments as the hyperbole of a well-known provocateur, his remarks imply that Trump’s supporters are intensely motivated to back the president. If the Trump presidency were imperiled by a move for impeachment, would Trump’s supporters be mobilized to political action?
Of course, impeachment is purely a hypothetical at this point, with calls for Trump’s removal coming primarily from liberal Democrats. But recent polling indicates that a non-trivial minority of Americans (43 percent in one poll, 40 percent in another) support impeaching Trump and removing him from office.
Even though it is ultimately Congress that has the authority to consider articles of impeachment against the president, public opinion is a critical consideration for members of Congress contemplating such action. And, given what underlies Stone’s comments, it’s important to probe Americans’ resolve when it comes to the prospect of impeachment.
Here’s how we did our research
In mid-June, the five of us conducted a survey with nearly 1,200 American adults from Qualtrics Panels’ opt-in Internet panel (see the full questionnaire here). The sample has been weighted to match the population in terms of age, gender, education and race using “raking weights.”
We first asked respondents, “Based on what you have read or heard, do you believe that President Donald Trump should be impeached and removed from office, or don’t you feel that way?” We found that 47 percent supported impeachment and 53 percent opposed. This is slightly higher support for impeachment than other recent nationally representative polls.
Then, respondents were asked questions about what they would do in support of that opinion — to either support or oppose Trump’s impeachment. While we did not ask respondents directly whether they would resort to violence, we did ask about a range of activities that allow us to address Stone’s claim about the motivation levels of Trump supporters.
In our poll, Trump’s opponents are more passionate than Trump’s supporters
We do not find Trump supporters especially motivated. Indeed, people who said they wanted Trump to be impeached expressed more willingness to engage in activism. For instance, almost all of Trump’s opponents (90 percent) would vote against his supporters (in Congress and in other elected positions) in an effort to “contribute to ending Donald Trump’s presidency,” while only 62 percent of those who oppose Trump’s impeachment would vote against his opponents (again, in Congress and elsewhere) to “contribute to preserving Donald Trump’s presidency.”
In the graph below, about 21 percent of Trump supporters said they would pay $50 to join a pro-Trump organization, while 41 percent of Trump opponents would join an anti-Trump group. More Trump opponents would call their representatives to urge impeachment than Trump supporters would to oppose impeachment.
There are also big differences in the level of protest activity; almost twice as many Trump opponents say they would attend a protest rally to press their case (54 to 25 percent). More Trump opponents would be willing to withhold their taxes (44 to 29 percent), while many more Trump opponents would join a general strike to help end the Trump presidency (61 to 32 percent).
The numbers, in absolute terms, also suggest a fair amount of agitation within the public. In other well-known studies, such as the 2016 American National Election Studies, the share of Americans who report attending a protest rally is just over 3 percent. The fact that a near majority of those who wish Trump impeached in our survey say they are willing to protest is one indication of how strong feelings are about the current administration.
For now, these are hypothetical questions
Of course, many of these responses to hypothetical questions surely amount to “cheap talk” and should be taken more as measures of motivation rather than items that reveal concrete intentions. They have, however, been linked to self-reported measures of political activism in the past, and Trump opponents have been more active than Trump supporters by about 5 percent overall.
It is also important to point out the context in which our survey was administered. If impeachment were actually on the table, the level of motivation among Trump supporters might increase. For now, Trump’s presidency is not under immediate threat from the Republican Congress. If that changed and the prospect of impeachment became real, Trump supporters might express more inclination to engage in activism on his behalf.
But as it stands, our data suggest that we are more than a few steps removed from the scenario Stone envisions. If anything, the Trump resistance appears to be more motivated than his supporters. Perhaps the most important message is that large segments of the citizenry appear willing to invest significant resources to pursue or resist the removal of Trump. People may not be fighting in the streets, but many appear willing to take to them.
Jake Neiheisel is an assistant professor of political science at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
Andrew R. Lewis is an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati and the author of “The Rights Turn in Conservative Christian Politics: How Abortion Transformed the Culture Wars” (Cambridge, 2017).
Ryan L. Claassen is a professor of political science at Kent State University.