Very few if any of these same prognosticators guessed in the summer before the Ukraine fiasco surfaced that first a plurality and then a majority of the country would favor an impeachment inquiry in the fall. That they couldn’t have known about Ukraine in advance is my point exactly.
Commentators who surmised that Marie Yovanovitch’s testimony would not matter were singing a different tune after her remarkable performance and President Trump’s bullying tweets. And who is to know which of those positions — 180 degree flip or no reaction or something in between — is correct? Whether something is “moving the needle” is, well, a moving target, given that voters are learning information at different rates and with varying levels of specificity.
Media pundits, being sophisticated cynics, tend to adhere to the mind-numbing “nothing matters” formula on all things Trump. However, Trump’s ratings on impeachment, honesty and a bunch of other considerations have gotten worse. His standing with Republicans (only 74 percent approval in The Post/ABC News’s last poll) suggests that either individual events or the cumulative weight of three years is weighing on Americans.
The needle moves in many different ways, of course. The Democrats’ smashing victory in the House in 2018, this month’s legislative elections in Virginia and the gubernatorial elections in Kentucky and Louisiana (both the results and the mammoth turnout) show a Trump effect. Any credible pollster will say that voter interest in the 2020 election is much higher than normal. The needle is moving, it seems.
It is not as if we lack for credible polling, which are a wee bit more accurate than most reporters’ “feelings” about how America, in all its diversity, is perceiving the hearings in real time. ABC News reports, “An overwhelming 70% of Americans think President Donald Trump’s request to a foreign leader to investigate his political rival, which sits at the heart of the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry, was wrong, a new ABC News/Ipsos poll finds.” A bare majority (51 percent) say what he did is not only wrong but also deserving of impeachment, while “another 19% think that Trump’s actions were wrong, but that he should either be impeached by the House but not removed from office, or be neither impeached by the House nor convicted by the Senate.”
Consider the following from the ABC News report: “Overall, 58% of Americans say they are following the hearings very closely or somewhat closely (21% and 37%, respectively), and 21% say they made up their minds about impeachment after the first week of public hearings. Among those who said this, 60% think that Trump should be impeached and removed from office.”
The most notable number of the ABC News/Ipsos poll, though, may be the 25 percent of Americans who think Trump did nothing wrong. That’s the Trump base/Fox News audience, pared down to the nub. And it turns out the number of dead-enders is comparatively small. Those are the people for whom the needle never moves. They get a disproportionate amount of coverage (“Trump’s base is still with him!”) which makes as much sense as judging his approval by surveying those standing in line for a rally. (Come to think of it, those two are pretty much the same thing.)
There are many more important things for which the media arguably has some competence that should keep them busy: Helping voters keep the basic facts and timeline straight, synthesizing thousands of pages of transcripts, pointing out contradictions or gaps in testimony, analyzing the long-term implications of Trump’s extorting an ally and, of course, debunking Republican lies (a full-time job in itself). Those activities should be more than enough to keep the media busy.