First, the toplines. A majority of registered voters, 53 percent to 45 percent, support the impeachment inquiry and a slimmer majority, 51 percent to 46 percent, support impeachment and removal.
Among Republicans, a staggering 94 percent oppose impeachment. But here’s the rub: It appears that those Republicans who watch Fox News are overwhelmingly more likely to oppose impeachment because they’ve been misled about the allegations:
Republicans who watch Fox News are much likelier to think the allegations are false than other Republicans. 89% of Republicans who get most of their impeachment news from Fox oppose the inquiry because they think the allegations aren’t true; 59% of other Republicans say the same.
Of course, Republicans who do believe the allegations largely oppose impeachment anyhow. But these findings still suggest Trump’s presidency hinges on systematically misinforming Republican voters and trying to conceal the extent of Trump’s misconduct from the minority of Republican voters who don’t insist the Ukraine allegations are simply untrue.
In other words, Fox News may be playing a key role in keeping a huge bloc of Republicans beyond the reach of any kind of persuasion on these matters.
This is only one poll. But others have found a similar dynamic. A recent national poll from the Public Religion Research Institute found that a staggering 98 percent of Republicans who cite Fox as their primary news source oppose impeaching and removing Trump — opposition that PRRI described as “essentially unanimous.”
By contrast, 90 percent of non-Fox-citing Republicans oppose impeaching and removing him. That’s also extremely high, but among the latter group, one can envision Trump losing a bit of support on the margins. They aren’t entirely beyond persuasion.
Beyond the impeachment question, the PRRI poll also found that Fox-watching Republicans are much more solidly behind Trump. An astonishing 55 percent of Republicans who cite Fox News as their primary news source say there is almost nothing Trump could do to lose their approval. Only 29 percent of non-Fox-citing Republicans say this.
And the PRRI poll also produced this remarkable finding: 71 percent of Fox-citing Republicans strongly approve of Trump, while only 39 percent of non-Fox-citing Republicans strongly approve of him.
As always, there’s the causation-correlation problem here: We don’t know whether these Republicans are more prone to think this way because they watch Fox News, or alternatively whether they watch Fox News because they’re prone to think that way.
But surely these things reinforce each other. And in the Trump era, the president’s own behavior does a lot to reinforce that dynamic.
Trump obsessively monitors Fox News to see how the impeachment battle is playing out. This seems to create a dynamic in which Trump cares above all about whether loyalty to him remains strong among those who are already more likely to stay with him no matter what happens, and less about what happens outside that bubble or what people are saying there.
Of course, in a perverse way, that makes some sense. Given Fox’s influence over the GOP base — at least, if these numbers are to be believed — it really does matter enormously to his long-term survival how impeachment plays in those precincts that constitute his defensive ramparts of last resort.
It’s often said that in Fox News, Trump has a powerful ally that Richard M. Nixon did not. But it’s in some ways even worse than this. One reason Nixon was forced out by deeply damning revelations against him is that institutions and their accountability mechanisms were arguably stronger at the time.
But not only are our institutions and their accountability mechanisms weaker now; there’s now also a fairly powerful institution — Fox News — that is in full-throttle support of Trump’s daily disinformation campaign, which is designed to both falsify the deeply damning revelations against him and to further weaken those competing institutions. And in some ways, at least, it seems to be working just as Trump hopes.